News / Africa

Medical Group Reports Civilian Casualties in Northern Mali Fighting

Nancy Palus

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders says a second civilian has been killed in an apparent army air strike in northern Mali.  Several other people, mostly women and children, were wounded in the attack.  An army official told VOA he could not confirm the incident, but said it would be "very distressing" if civilians were hurt in the fighting between government forces and Tuareg rebels.

Doctors Without Borders says it is difficult to know the number and extent of further injuries as many of the people affected have fled the group's makeshift site, about 20 kilometers outside of the city of Kidal in northeastern Mali.

Michel-Olivier Lacharité, program manager for Doctors Without Borders in Mali, talked to VOA from Paris.

"Out of the two persons referred to the hospital of Kidal, the second one died yesterday night from his wounds.  So two people are now dead and because the compound of the population moved away it was impossible for us to see what is the status of the other wounded people."

Distinguishing between fighters and civilians

Lacharité said Doctors Without Borders urges both sides to spare civilians.

"We are very concerned for the civilian population and we really want to remind all parties in the conflict to make the distinction between the fighters and the civilians," he said.

Colonel Idrissa Traore, head of the army information service, told VOA on Friday he does not yet have confirmation that an army strike harmed residents, but said that even one civilian casualty is one too many.

He said the Malian army consistently has the security of the citizens as its top priority in all its operations. He said the army has a delicate mission in the north to separate rebels from the population and since fighting began in January there has been no word of army actions against civilians.

Traore said it has yet to be determined how civilians were harmed.

He questions by which side were civilians injured?  That, he says, is the big question.

Pleads for restraint

Lacharité of Doctors Without Borders said whatever the nature of the attack, what is of most concern, and what must be addressed, is that the killed and injured were all civilians.

A resident of Kidal who requested anonymity told VOA he saw some of the injured in the local hospital.

He says they are really in shock and distressed.  He said it is even difficult to understand some of them because they are so traumatized.  They have no idea why this happened, he says, they are just collateral victims.

Humanitarian agencies say that since January, fighting between Tuareg rebels and the Malian army has forced tens of thousands of Malians from their homes. The U.N. office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs says that at least 120,000 people have fled their homes - about half crossing into neighboring countries, the rest displaced within Mali.

Since January, Tuareg rebels demanding autonomy for the north have attacked the Malian army in several northern towns.  The Malian government has faced periodic uprisings by Tuareg groups for decades, but the latest offensive is more intense with the arrival of Tuareg fighters and heavy weapons from Libya after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi.

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