UN Calls for Probe Into Raid That Killed 19 in Mali

The United Nations called for an investigation into an airstrike that local officials and non-governmental organizations say killed wedding guests in a remote area of Mali earlier this month.

The strike occurred in Bounti, a village at about 45 kilometers (28 miles) northeast of Douentza in the central Mopti region, according to a UN statement on Wednesday. The Jan. 3 incident killed at least 19 people and injured nine others, it said, citing local sources.

“If it’s found that civilians were targeted in this attack, it would constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law, which guarantees the protection of civilians, humanitarian personnel and objects in armed conflict,” Amy Martin, interim Resident Coordinator of the UN in Mali, said in the statement.

The incident has sparked outrage in Mali, with local media and some non-governmental organizations alleging that a French helicopter killed civilians at a wedding party. Doctors Without Borders treated eight people for bullet wounds and shrapnel injuries in a clinic in Douentza after the raid, according to a Jan. 6 statement. Among the casualties were men who had come to sell cattle for the wedding meal, said an official in Bounti.

France’s army chief of staff rejected the allegations as “disinformation” in a Jan. 7 statement, saying there was no evidence of a festive gathering at the time of the raid, which didn’t cause any “collateral damage.” Mali’s Defense Ministry said the operation targeted Islamist militants.

The raid came a few days after militants killed five French soldiers in two separate attacks in the area, one of the highest tolls inflicted in combat on France’s counter-insurgency operation in years. France is currently debating whether to withdraw part of the 5,100-strong force that hunts down jihadists in the Sahel. While it added 600 troops last year, that increase was meant to be temporary, Defense Minister Florence Parly told newspaper Le Parisien last week.

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