Almost a month after Tuareg rebels launched a new assault against the southern government, tens of thousands of people have fled fighting in northern Mali, according to the International Committee for the Red Cross.
The ICRC says the fighting has also displaced families in Niger, with already disastrous humanitarian consequences. Aid groups have warned that the region, known as the Sahel, could face a severe food shortages this year, compounding the suffering of displaced families.
"People are fleeing the violence in large numbers, in great haste, and in utter destitution," Jürg Eglin, the head of the ICRC's Niger and Mali delegations said on the organization’s website.
More from GlobalPost: Tuareg rebellion gathering momentum
Hundreds of Tuareg rebels recently returned from Libya to Mali, after fighting alongside the troops of former leader, Muammar Gaddafi, according to Voice of America. After Western-backed rebels won Libya, Gaddafi loyalists fled the country, taking battle skills and weapons with them.
And while this is the fourth Tuareg rebellion since Mali gained independence in 1960, soldiers say this round of fighting is different, Reuters reports. In the past, the rebels appeared undertrained and ill-equipped. In their first assault on Jan. 18, the Tuareg militia surrounded an army base with four-wheel-drives armed with machine guns. After cutting off communication and water supplies, the rebels overran the base within a week.
"They had the advantage of being more numerous, being better armed and having better logistics, including satellite phones," a Malian government soldier told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "It is the sad truth."
This comes at a time when Libyan relations in West Africa are strained by other consuquences of the Libyan war. Over the weekend, Libya demanded that Niger extradite Gaddafi's son, Saaidi Gaddafi, who warned of a "coming uprising" in Libya, Reuters reports.
More from GlobalPost: Libya demands Niger hand over Gaddafi's son
Niger Government Spokesperson Marou Amadou said they would not extradite Saaidi because they don’t believe he would get a fair trial in Libya. The Libyan government said the move could threaten relations between the two countries.
"We will hand over Saadi Gaddafi to a government which has an independent and impartial justice system," Amadou said, according to Reuters. "But we cannot hand over someone to a place where he could face the death penalty or where he is not likely to have a trial worthy of the name."