BAMAKO/TIMBUKTU: A French-led offensive against Islamists in Mali has led to civilian deaths from air strikes and ethnic reprisals by Malian troops, human rights groups said yesterday, a day before President Francois Hollande was due to visit the country.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch cited witness reports of extrajudicial killings by Malian government soldiers of dozens of civilians in the towns of Sevare and Konna.
At least five civilians were killed in a helicopter attack on the first day of France’s military intervention.
France has deployed more than 3,500 soldiers in a three-week campaign has wrested control of northern Mali towns from the al Qaeda-linked rebels and aims to prevent Islamist fighters from using Mali’s desert north to launch attacks on African countries and the West.
The human rights groups said troops targeted light-skinned Arab and Tuareg ethnic groups associated with the rebels, but the Malian army has denied any summary executions by its soldiers and the government in Bamako has publicly warned against such revenge killings.