Five killed on day one of French intervention in Mali, says Amnesty

Sat, Feb 2, 2013, 00:00

At least five civilians, including three children, were killed in an air strike by French-led forces on the first day of the Mali intervention against Islamists, Amnesty International has said.

On the eve of a visit by French president François Hollande to Mali, Amnesty also reported evidence of executions by the Malian army since the French operation began, and of unlawful killings by armed Islamists.

In a field report based on witness testimonies collected in five Malian towns over a 10-day period, Amnesty said five people, including a mother and her three young children, were killed in their home during an airstrike in the town of Konna at about 11am on January 11th – the first day of the French intervention.

Under fire

The report quoted a witness saying two helicopters fired at the house, killing five and injuring two others. It cited witnesses who said “there were no members of armed groups or military objectives in the house or mosque that were struck in the attack”, although there were some members of an armed Islamist group posted at a crossroads about 150m from the area that came under fire.

The French military told Amnesty that it did not attack targets in Konna until after 4.30pm on January 11th – more than five hours after witnesses said the strikes occurred – but Amnesty said it had written to French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian asking for an independent investigation into the incident.

“It is absolutely imperative that France and Mali launch investigations into who carried out this attack,” said Gaëtan Mootoo, Amnesty International’s Mali researcher.

Access to the war zone by journalists and aid agencies has been severely restricted by French and Malian authorities. But reports have emerged from recaptured towns this week of reprisals against people who allegedly co-operated with the Islamists over the past nine months. Amnesty said it had evidence that on January 10th, the eve of the intervention, the Malian army arrested and executed more than two dozen civilians, mainly in the northern town of Sévaré.

Several bodies

Eyewitnesses in Sévaré described seeing soldiers dump several bodies into a well in one neighbourhood, the report stated. “Once the bodies had been thrown and were in the well, [the soldiers] fired two or three bursts of machine gun fire into the well,” one witness was quoted as saying.

According to Amnesty, “people spoke of how the Malian security forces apparently targeted people they suspected of links to Islamist armed groups – often on very tenuous grounds, such as clothes they were wearing or their ethnic origin.”

The report also documented reports of Islamist armed groups carrying out extrajudicial executions.

It cited eyewitnesses describing how militants summarily killed five injured Malian soldiers as well as one civilian in the town of Diabaly on January 14th and 15th, following its capture by militant groups.

Diabaly residents told the report’s authors that they had seen children, some as young as 10 years old, armed with rifles among the Islamists’ ranks.