DAKAR (AFP) – Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that at least 20 soldiers loyal to Mali’s ousted government have disappeared at the hands of troops backing a March coup and are feared dead.

“Soldiers loyal to Mali’s coup leader have forcibly disappeared at least 20 soldiers allegedly linked to an April 30, 2012 counter-coup, and committed torture and other abuses against dozens of others,” the rights body said in a statement.

“The security forces of Captain Amadou Sanogo, who led the March 22 coup against President Amadou Toumani Toure, have also engaged in a campaign of intimidation against journalists, family members of detained soldiers, and others deemed a threat.”

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Sanogo and his fellow officers ousted Toure’s government, accusing it of incompetence in dealing with a Tuareg separatist rebellion in the north which had overwhelmed a poorly-equipped and prepared army.

A counter-coup bid by elite red-beret paratroopers who formed part of Toure’s presidential guard was stamped out by the putschists who rounded up about 80 people believed to have been involved, mostly soldiers.

Witnesses at the Kati military camp, Sanogo’s base, and a police camp known as the Mobile Security Group told HRW of seeing soldiers and policemen drag handcuffed and hogtied detainees along the ground, beating them badly.

“Two witnesses described how four men were forced at gunpoint and under threat of death to engage in anal sex with one another and said that fabric was stuffed in their mouths before the abuse to stifle their screams.”

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The 20 men who disappeared were seen taken from Kati in a military truck on May 3, in the early hours of the morning, and their family members told HRW they had not been seen since.

“They took them out, bound their hands and legs, and covered their eyes; they have never been heard from or seen since,” one witness said.

In April Sanogo handed power to a civilian government tasked with overseeing the return to democratic rule, however he has maintained significant influence in Bamako and been accused by the African Union of meddling in political affairs.

Last week Mali’s authorities referred “the situation in Mali since January 2012″ to the International Criminal Court for investigation.

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