More than 30 people were killed in a rebel attack in the West African country of Niger, the Ministry of Interior has said.
Armed assailants on motorcycles attacked the village of Darey Dey in the Tillaberi region close to the border with Mali on Monday and killed 37 people, including 14 children, according to the ministry.
The assailants attacked as people were working in the fields, a local official told the AFP news agency.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack but several armed groups linked to al-Qaeda or ISIL (ISIS) are active in the region.
Rated the world’s poorest country by the UN’s Human Development Index, Niger lies in the heart of the arid Sahel region of West Africa, which is battling a nine-year-old rebellion.
The bloodshed began in northern Mali in 2012 and then spread to the centre of the country before hitting neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.
Tillaberi has borne the brunt of the crisis. Darey Dey, located 40km (25 miles) east of the town of Banibangou, was already reeling from a bloody assault on March 15.
Rebels killed 66 people in attacks on the village and on vehicles of shoppers returning from the weekly market in Banibangou.
According to a toll issued last Wednesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW), more than 420 civilians have been killed in rebel attacks in Tillaberi and the neighbouring region of Tahoua this year.
Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes.
“Armed Islamist groups appear to be waging war on the civilian population in western Niger,” Corinne Dufka, HRW’s Sahel director, said in the report.
Among those killed were village chiefs, imams, people with disabilities and “numerous children”, some executed after being ripped from their parents’ arms, HRW said.
The groups have also destroyed schools and churches and imposed restrictions based on their strict interpretation of Islam.
The Banibangou department lies in the so-called “tri-border” area where the frontiers of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali converge. The area is notorious for attacks by highly mobile fighters linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL.
Three attacks by gunmen on motorbikes were carried out in the Banibangou area on July 25, 29 and August 9, killing 48 people, according to the authorities.
Atrocities have also been committed in southeast Niger by Nigerian fighters from Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
In January, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said the number of internally displaced people in the Sahel had exceeded two million. A further 850,000 people were refugees.
In Niger, which has a population of approximately 23 million, the government has little control in the desert expanses outside the cities, a fact that is exploited not only by rebel groups but also criminal networks, such as human traffickers.