Twenty-one bodies were found overnight Tuesday in a mass grave near Bamako, believed to be the remains of soldiers close to Mali's ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure, officials said.
"We have found 21 bodies, probably of 'red beret' soldiers, in a mass grave in Diago. The bodies were exhumed," a Malian justice ministry official said.
A security official told AFP that "identity cards found in the mass grave seem to confirm that they were missing 'red beret' soldiers."
The discovery near the capital Bamako comes a week after the arrest and detention of Amadou Haya Sanogo, leader of the March 22, 2012 coup against Toure that plunged Mali into chaos.
The government says Sanogo has been charged with complicity in kidnappings, but a source close to the judge in the case told AFP the charges also include murder, complicity to murder and carrying out kidnappings.
Fifteen people, mainly soldiers from his inner circle, were arrested immediately after him.
Sanogo's coup toppled what had been heralded as one of west Africa's most stable democracies and precipitated a crisis in which Al-Qaeda-linked groups seized control of the country's north, enforcing a brutal form of Islamic law until a French-led military intervention forced them out.
In the months that followed, Sanogo's then-headquarters in the central town of Kati were the scene of abuses and killings carried out against soldiers seen as loyal to Toure.
Some 20 "red berets" were killed by Sanogo's followers in a failed counter-coup on April 30, 2012. Their bodies were never recovered.
An aide to judge Yaya Karembe, who brought the charges against Sanogo, said investigators were led to the mass grave site by his former followers.
"In the past three weeks Sanogo's former companions had given us precise information about the mass grave," he told AFP at the cordon set up by security forces near the grave.
"But I wish to be cautious," he said. "We need further analysis to determine if they are indeed 'red berets'."
He said Mali was likely to seek help from a foreign country such as France to carry out the necessary tests.
Sanogo was controversially promoted from captain to lieutenant-general in August, prompting fellow ex-junta members also seeking promotion to mutiny at his Kati barracks and forcing the army to intervene.
The bodies of three missing soldiers were subsequently discovered in and around the barracks and around 20 officers, including Sanogo's former deputy, were arrested.
Sanogo still commands support in some circles, including parts of the army, but Defence Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga -- part of a new government sworn in after presidential elections last summer -- said this week he would not hinder the court case against him.