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Amnesty demands French army probe of Mali civilian deaths

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Amnesty International on Friday called on the French army to launch an independent investigation into the deaths of five civilians killed in a helicopter attack at the start of the Mali campaign.

A report from the London-based rights group also highlighted summary executions by Malian troops and Islamist groups, as well as the Islamists' use of child soldiers.

Amnesty said at least five civilians, including a mother and three of her children, died during an assault on the central Malian town of Konna on the morning of January 11.

The organisation quoted relatives of Aminata Maiga, 40, as saying the woman and her children, Ali, 11, Adama, 10 and Zeinabour, 6, were killed when rockets fired from a helicopter struck her house and an adjacent mosque.

A mechanic who was cycling past the Madrasatoun Sabilou Rachade mosque at the time of the attack was also killed by shrapnel, a witness told Amnesty.

Witnesses told the organisation's researchers, who visited Konna this week, that there were no members of armed groups or military targets in the house and mosque struck in the attack, although there were Islamist fighters stationed at a crossroads 150 metres (yards) away.

French army spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard said the attack could not have been carried by French helicopters.

"There is nothing to indicate that French forces could be held responsible for that attack," he told AFP, insisting no French helicopters or planes had been active in Konna on January 11.

The occupation of Konna by Islamist groups triggered France's military intervention in its former colony and its recapture, which involved both Malian and French forces. It was the first operation of the campaign.

Amnesty said the French army should "open an independent and impartial investigation into the Konna attack".

Amnesty also urged the Malian authorities to investigate widespread reports of summary executions carried out by their troops, apparently in revenge for defeats the army suffered at the hands of Tuareg and Islamist rebels last year.

The organisation also called for the deployment of UN human rights monitors to report on abuses in conflict areas.

Amnesty is the latest rights organisation to sound the alarm over abuses taking place against the background of the conflict in Mali.

Human Rights Watch said Thursday that there had been very serious violations by all sides and voiced fear that reprisal killings would continue as the Islamist groups are pushed out of urban centres in the north of the country.

The European Union has called for the swift deployment of international observers to monitor the rights situation in Mali.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130201/amnesty-demands-french-army-probe-mali-civilian-deaths-0