A French air strike may have killed at least five civilians in Mali, Amnesty International has revealed in a new report that also highlights alarming human rights violations by Malian soldiers.
Amnesty International said on Friday that Malian civilians have faced grave danger from warring Malian troops and Islamist fighters, but also potentially from French forces during the ongoing conflict in the West African country.
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Malian soldiers have committed human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions of civilians, before and during their joint campaign with France, according to a new report by the London-based group.
Salvator Saguès, Amnesty International’s researcher for West Africa, told France 24 that his organization was looking into a helicopter airstrike on a house in the central town of Konna that killed five people, including three children.
The strike occurred on the morning of January 11, the first day of the French intervention. French authorities have denied that they conducted airstrikes in Konna on the morning of the deaths, but Malian officials said there had been joint French-Malian operations.
“We are asking authorities to conduct an impartial and public inquiry into the matter, to determine if there was any involvement by French forces in the operation,” Saguès said in a telephone interview.
Facing fire from all sides
Despite the fresh concerns over the possible French airstrike, the new report focused on worrying reprisals by the Malian army.
The rights group revealed that civilians suspected of having ties with the retreating Islamist rebels have been arrested, beaten and even executed by the Malian soldiers.
Information gathered during a ten-day mission in the restive region showed that rebels were also behind summary killings of civilians, as well the as recruitment of child soldiers.
Incapable of blocking an offensive launched by allied Tuareg rebels and jihadist fighters, Mali’s army was embarrassingly pushed out of northern Mali last year.
Last month the French military sent warplanes and ground troops to help reclaim the lost territory, quickly ousting rebels from key cities in central and northern Mali.
Amnesty’s was part of growing list of reports detailing ethnic reprisals and abuses by Malian soldiers, who are predominantly black southerners, against ethnic Tuareg and Arab populations from the north.
FRANCE 24 reported January 29 on the public beating of an elderly resident of the town of Diabaly, who was targeted by a member of Mali’s army simply because of his beard.
Witnesses who spoke to Amnesty said people were singled out for abuse because of the clothes they were wearing or their ethnic origin.
Thrown down a well
Amnesty said its delegation had conducted research in the towns of Segou, Sevare, Niono, Konna and Diabaly.
In the town of Sevare, eye witnesses described how they saw soldiers dump the bodies of several people into a well in the Waïludé neighbourhood. “Once the bodies had been thrown into the well, [the soldiers] fired two or three bursts of machine gun fire into the well,” Amnesty quoted one witness as saying.
Saguès said that although it was not France's role to police Malian troops, French soldiers were obliged to report any abuses and make efforts to prevent such acts whenever possible by putting pressure on Malian authorities.
The Amnesty researcher added that the potential for reprisals could grow in the coming weeks and months as the nearly 400,000 people who have been displaced by the conflict attempt to return to their homes.
Date created : 2013-02-01