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Malian president plays down UN atrocities accusations

media French President François Hollande with Mali's Dioncounda Traoré in Timbuktu … AFP/Fred Dufour

Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traoré played down a UN report’s charges that his country’s troops had carried out reprisals against some ethnic groups during the French-led offensive in the north.

“I am not aware of so many abuses," Traoré said during a visit to the Senegalese capital, Dakar, on Tuesday.

"The media should not be echoing statements that do not correspond to reality" and reminiscent of "imaginary abuses", he said after meeting Senegalese leader Macky Sall at the end of a two-day visit.

Dossier: War in Mali

Since French, Malian and west African troops drove armed Islamist groups out of most of northern Mali, which they had controlled for several months, ethnic groups have been targeted for reprisals, according to the preliminary findings of a UN mission to Mali last month.

Members of the Peuhl, Tuareg and Arab ethnic groups were being targeted, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday.

“The situation has been exacerbated by the propagation of inflammatory messages, including through the media, stigmatising members of these communities, thousands of whom have reportedly fled out of fear of reprisal by the Malian army,” she said.

“Those who remain in the country are afraid of being targeted not for what they have done, but for who they are.”

The report also reports abuses by the Islamists when they controlled the north, an aspect of the conflict that Traoré chose to stress.

"We have seen foreigners violate, violate, cut off hands and feet,” he told the Dakar press conference.

But he also promised that “any person guilty of abuses will be held accountable before national or international courts".

The French foreign ministry on Wednesday pledged in a tweet that French forces would be “very attentive” to the possibility of reprisals.

In other news on the Mali conflict:

  • French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the UN is likely to vote next month on a peacekeeping force for Mali that could comprise up to 10,000 troops and be deployed in June;
  • Mali’s media closed down on Tuesday to protest at the arrest of Boukary Daou, an editor who published a letter criticising former junta chief Captain Amadou Sanogo;
  • Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said her country will not contribute troops to the west African force, Afisma, during a visit by her Malina counterpart Tiéman Coulibaly but expressed support for its operation in Mali.
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