Mali clashes force 120 000 from homes
Dakar - Some 120 000 people have been forced from their homes in Mali since Tuareg-led rebels launched an independence bid last month in the country's desert north, United Nations figures showed.
The conflict, which has seen rebels bolstered by fighters and weapons from Libya's conflict launch a wave of attacks on military outposts, comes as the Sahel region grapples with a food crisis that aid agencies say will leave more than 10 million hungry this year.
Fighting in three of Mali's eight provinces also threatens the holding of an election due in April.
More than 60 000 civilians have crossed into neighbouring countries while a similar number have fled their homes but remained in Mali, according to a February 21 update from the UN's Office for Humanitarian Affairs seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
Malians have scattered across Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Algeria. The UN said 11 000 people had returned back to Mali from Niger.
The MNLA rebels, believed to number about 1 000, have brought together Malians who fought in the ranks of the Libyan army with veteran Tuareg rebels who have taken part in several previous northern uprisings.
Dozens have been reported killed in battles on several fronts, with heavily armed and mobile rebel units taking on government forces backed by helicopter gunships.
However, there is little independent information on casualties.
A Malian commission charged with investigating the killing of soldiers in the northern town of Aguelhoc on Tuesday reiterated government claims that rebels, operating alongside al-Qaeda fighters, had executed soldiers during fighting last month.
The commission did not give a toll. The rebels have repeatedly denied the killings and accused the government of a set up aimed at undermining their credibility.