Mali facing worst rights crisis in 20 years
Dakar - Amnesty International said on Friday that a Tuareg offensive raging in northern Mali is causing a human rights crisis, with scores killed and thousands fleeing into neighbouring countries.
"This is the worst human rights crisis in northern Mali for 20 years," said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty International's researcher on West Africa in a statement.
"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."
Tuareg rebels, boosted by the return of those who had been fighting for Muammar Gaddafii in Libya, launched an offensive on January 17 and have attacked several northern towns as they demand autonomy for their nomadic desert tribe.
The UN refugee agency reported Friday that more than 44 000 people have fled into neighbouring Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso.
France on Monday condemned the extrajudicial killings of some 82 people in the town of Aguelhok - about 750km north-east of the capital Bamako - accusing the killers of adopting al-Qaeda-style tactics.
The Malian army confirmed that soldiers and civilians had been summarily executed.
Amnesty said dozens of soldiers and fighters have 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," said Mootoo.
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, 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.