Mali's army may be behind abuses, France says
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Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told FRANCE 24 on Wednesday that Mali's army may be committing human rights abuses as it seeks to oust the Islamists controlling the country's north, calling for "vigilance" in avoiding any misconduct.
The Malian army may have committed human rights abuses as it continues its campaign against the Islamist militants that are in control of the country’s north, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told FRANCE 24 on Wednesday.
Drian said “there was a risk” that Mali’s troops were engaged in misconduct.
“We must be extremely vigilant, and the president of the republic (François Hollande) is counting on the Malian army’s leaders to hold themselves responsible for avoiding any abuses,” Drian told FRANCE 24.
“It is their honour that is at stake,” he said.
A French human rights group warned on Wednesday that summary executions and other abuses have allegedly been committed by Malian troops as they seek to oust the militants who control the West African country’s north. The International Federation for Human Rights, or FIDH, has called for an independent commission to investigate the allegations and that those responsible be punished.
The group said that Malian forces were responsible for some 33 killings, including the deaths of some ethnic Tuaregs, since January 10 along the narrow area that lies between the government-controlled south and the Islamist-held north.
Journalists trying to cover the French military intervention, which was launched on January 11 to support Malian forces, have mostly been refused access to the area.
Refugee stories ‘horrific’, UN says
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also told FRANCE 24 this week that both sides are suspected of committing human rights abuses.
“The stories from refugees are horrific,” said William Spindler, a UNHCR spokesman. “Some were whipped by Islamists, others saw rebels cut off hands. Children under 12 are being recruited by the rebels.”
But Spindler told FRANCE 24 that some refugees have been terrorised by Mali’s army as well. “The refugees also speak of abuses by the Malian army against people they suspect of being Islamists,” he said. “The situation is very worrying.”
Spindler said the number of internally displaced people was currently estimated at 229,000 but is expected to rise significantly.
Drian said that 1,000 African troops are already on the ground in Mali, of an expected deployment of up to 6,000 UN-backed, African-led soldiers.
France originally stated that its mission was to pave the way for the African forces with air strikes, but on Sunday Drian appeared to redefine the French mission by saying it was committed to "the total reconquest of Mali" from Islamist forces.