ANTANANARIVO: Amnesty International has called on Madagascar to rein in its “rampaging” security forces after a crackdown on cattle-rustling gangs killed dozens of people, including children, in the south of the country.

Amnesty cited witnesses who claimed children, elderly people and the physically disabled “were burnt alive when security forces indiscriminately set fire to villages as part of the military operation”.

Police killed 40 cattle thieves, dubbed dahalos, during the two-month operation, which started in September. The thieves had reportedly killed 14 security officers earlier in the year.

Witnesses claimed that in one of the “many raids on villages”, security forces burnt 95 homes in Elonty district and killed at least 11 people, including a six-year-old girl, Amnesty said.

“The government has to rein in its security forces and launch an independent investigation into these allegations,” Amnesty said.

Police last week admitted to killing 27 thieves and two villagers during a 60-day operation. They alleged the Indian Ocean island’s ousted president, Marc Ravalomanana, who is in exile in South Africa, had contributed to the sharp escalation in violence when he set up a cattle export ranch in the region.

The London-based rights lobby group expressed concern that the spate of violence posed serious concerns for the security of civilians in the region ahead of presidential elections planned for May next year. –