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UNICEF said Tuesday it urgently needs $45 million (34.4 million euros) to help children in conflict-stricken Mali, where the threat of violence and trafficking has spiralled, compounding a long-running food crisis.
UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado told reporters the money was neeeded to address basic needs such as healthcare, nutrition, education and protection over the next three months.
Hundreds of thousands of Malians fled their homes in the wake of last year's seizure of a swathe of the north by Islamists, and in the face of a French-led offensive launched by the Malian army in January against the militants.
"The impact on children has been particularly acute," said Mercado.
"Displacement has put children at increased risk of sexual exploitation, gender-based violence, trafficking, separation, recruitment into armed groups, as well as exposure to mines and unexploded or abandoned war ordinance," she added.
The conflict came on top of years of drought in Mali and other nations in the Sahel region, where millions face famine as a result.
"The region as a whole is experiencing a continuing nutrition crisis and children affected by the Mali crisis are at particular risk and in urgent need of assistance," said Mercado.
In Mali alone, an estimated 660,000 children under the age of five are expected to face malnutrition this year, according to UNICEF.
The crisis has also disrupted schooling for some 700,000 children.
Human rights have also been spotlighted as the crisis unfolds, amid concerns about violations committed by both the Islamists and the Malian army.
Addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday, France's deputy foreign minister Yamina Benguigui called for a resolution that would pave the way for a probe into rights abuses.
She said the Malian authorities must respect international rights treaties and watch for violations.