The United Nations says members of a U.N. police unit in the West African country of Mali used "unauthorized and excessive force" in fatally shooting three civilians and wounding four others during a protest in January.

The statement Thursday says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "expresses his deepest apologies" to the victims and their families.

The shootings outside a U.N. base in the city of Gao represent one of the most serious incidents of violence by members of a U.N. peacekeeping force in the past decade. The unit is from Rwanda.

The findings are based on an independent inquiry launched by Ban after the shootings.

The inquiry also found that some protesters bear responsibility for the violence, which also wounded five U.N. police officers.