Tuareg rebellion sparks crisis in Mali
Rights group Amnesty says rebels' fight for autonomy has created Mali's worst humanitarian disaster in 20 years.
Last Modified: 18 Feb 2012 19:24
Thousands of Malians have been displaced, first by the Libyan conflict, and now by Tuareg rebellion [GALLO/GETTY]

A Tuareg military offensive in northern Mali is causing a humanitarian and human rights crisis, with scores killed and thousands fleeing into neighbouring countries, rights group Amnesty International has said.

"This is the worst human rights crisis in northern Mali for 20 years," Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty researcher on West Africa, said in a statement released on Friday.

"The rule of law has been markedly absent in this part of the country for years, and the region could be plunged into chaos if the fighting continues."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Friday that fighting had displaced at least 60,000 people inside Mali. The figure did not include other refugees who fled to neighbouring countries.

"As clashes continue in the north, the humanitarian situation of those displaced is getting worse amid a food crisis," the ICRC said in a statement.

"In northern Mali all those people who have abandoned their homes, their fields, who lost their cattle and their daily activities are at a loss," said Juerg Eglin, who heads the ICRC's delegation for Mali and Niger.

Thousands displaced

According to the ICRC about 22,000 people have fled to Niger due to the ongoing violence. The UN refugee agency said earlier on Friday that more than 44,000 people had fled to neighbouring Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Tuareg rebels, boosted by the return of those who had been fighting for the late Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, launched an offensive on January 17 and have attacked several northern towns as they demand autonomy for their nomadic desert tribe.

France on Monday condemned the extra-judicial killings of some 82 people in the town of Aguelhok, some 750km north-east of the capital Bamako, accusing the killers of adopting tactics similar to al-Qaeda.

The Malian army confirmed that soldiers and civilians had been summarily executed.

Amnesty said dozens of soldiers and fighters had been killed since in clashes between Malian troops and the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA).

The statement said photographs were circulated showing the corpses of Malian soldiers' with their hands tied behind their backs, but the MNLA says they were fabricated.

"In view of the contradicting stories about how the soldiers depicted in these images were killed, there is an urgent need for an independent and impartial inquiry into what happened," Mootoo said.

Security failure

Amnesty said that during protests in Bamako at the beginning of February against government's handling of the conflict, Malian security forces "failed to prevent an angry mob from attacking homes and properties owned by Tuaregs and other ethnic groups".

This led thousands of Tuaregs and others, allegedly targeted because of their lighter skin colour, to flee Bamako.

"All reports indicate that the Malian security forces were unwilling or unable to protect the Tuareg population and others targeted when the Bamako protests turned violent. The authorities must take immediate measures to ensure that anyone at risk is granted protection," Mootoo said.

West African leaders meeting in Nigeria, meanwhile, urged the Tuareg rebels to "immediately" end their fresh offensive in northern Mali.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) closed a regional summit by voicing "deep concern" at the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in the Sahel region that stretches across Africa south of the Sahara.

"Calling for an immediate and unconditional cessation of hostilities by the rebels," the leaders in a final statement "ordered them to immediately surrender all occupied zones in" Mali.

They also urged the parties involved in the crisis to secure a peaceful end to the conflict through dialogue.

The summit ordered an urgent meeting of military chiefs from the 15-member ECOWAS bloc to review the "emerging security threats" in the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea, which has been hit by rising piracy.

Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
'Justice for All' demonstrations swell across the US over the deaths of African Americans in police encounters.
Six former Guantanamo detainees are now free in Uruguay with some hailing the decision to grant them asylum.
Disproportionately high number of Aboriginal people in prison highlights inequality and marginalisation, critics say.
Nearly half of Canadians have suffered inappropriate advances on the job - and the political arena is no exception.
Women's rights activists are demanding change after Hanna Lalango, 16, was gang-raped on a bus and left for dead.
Buried in Sweden's northern forest, Sorsele has welcomed many unaccompanied kids who help stabilise a town exodus.
A look at the changing face of North Korea, three years after the death of 'Dear Leader'.
While some fear a Muslim backlash after café killings, solidarity instead appears to be the order of the day.
Victims spared by the deadly disease are reporting blindness and other unexpected post-Ebola health issues.