Malian troops have been accused of carrying out summary executions of suspected Islamists. The allegations come as African coalition forces begin advancing to the center of Mali, in support of the French intervention.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) on Wednesday accused Malian soldiers of summarily executing at least 11 people in the central town of Sevare.
According to FIDH, there are additional reports that Malian troops executed another 20 people in Sevare and dumped their bodies into wells. FIDH is a global human rights organization with its headquarters in Paris.
The victims were reportedly accused of collaborating with the Islamist militants who control much of northern Mali. Last April, the Islamist groups Ansar Dine, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and MUJWA wrested the Mali's north from the central government and imposed Shariah law in several cities.
FIDH has also expressed concern that the executions could have an ethnic dimension, with lighter-skinned Tuaregs and Arabs possibly being singled out as Islamist militants by Mali's largely black army.
"The reprisals, linked with extreme tension which already exists between communities, is an explosive cocktail which makes one fear the worst, especially in the context of the re-conquest of the north," said Souhayr Belhassen, the president of FIDH.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has called on the Malian officer corps to hold their soldiers accountable.
"We must be extremely vigilant." Le Drian said. "We are counting on Malian officers' sense of responsibility to ensure abuses are avoided. It is their honor that is at stake."
Accordingto the Reuters news agency, the Malian military has closed Sevare to journalists.
African troops head north
Meanwhile, the first troops from a coalition of African states have begun to fan out from Mali's capital, Bamako, and deploy toward the center of the country. The UN had authorized the Western African bloc ECOWAS to deploy some 3,300 troops to Mali. The central African nation Chad has agreed to contribute a further 2,000 soldiers.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Wednesday that some 1,000 African troops had already arrived in Mali.
"The African force is deploying much faster than expected," Fabius said. "Obviously that poses a number of logistical difficulties, but I have to say that I have seen a very big effort on the part of our African friends."
The African force was originally scheduled to deploy to Mali much later, but was forced to speed up its operational plans when Islamist militants made a rapid push from the north toward the capital, Bamako.
The Islamist advance precipitated a French military intervention on January 11, comprising airstrikes and the deployment of ground troops. Paris currently has some 2,300 soldiers deployed in Mali, a former French colony.
slk/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)