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The Red Cross is seeking access to prisoners captured during the Mali conflict and is urging authorities to help prevent revenge attacks, ICRC chief Peter Maurer told AFP in an interview Friday.
"We are currently going through all the channels to convince the political leadership to ... guarantee us access to all the prisoners taken during the conflict," said Maurer, who took over as the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross last July.
He stressed that his organisation had previously had access to Malian prisoners, but said it had not yet been able to see any of the new prisoners taken since France launched an offensive last month to help Malian troops block an advance towards the capital, Bamako, by Al Qaeda-linked extremists who have occupied the north for 10 months.
"It is ... of crucial importance for us that we have access to the prisoners (taken) in the conflict so we can assure proper treatment of those prisoners," Maurer told AFP.
It was also important, he said, for the ICRC to gain access to Malian troops to help "avoid that violent acts of retribution be carried out against prisoners or the civilian population, something we have been hearing rumours about."
In addition to its efforts to ensure proper treatment of prisoners and civilians in the midst of the ongoing armed conflict, the ICRC was also busy providing aid across the war-ravaged country, Maurer said.
Even before the conflict in the impoverished country began a year ago, in the north especially, "the situation of the civilian population has been extremely fragile," he said, pointing to persistent droughts, repeated armed conflicts and deep economic crises.
His organisation had been able to create "an important humanitarian operation last year servicing more than 500,000 people, (and maintain) more than nine or 10 medical facilities and hospitals in the north."
"We are trying to adapt this aid to the current situation, where there are a number of war-injured arriving, as well as people displaced by the recent conflict," he said.