(AFP) – Feb 13, 2012
PARIS — France denounced on Monday what it said was the murder of 82 people in northern Mali during an offensive by Tuareg rebels, accusing the killers of adopting Al-Qaeda-style tactics.
"There was absolutely atrocious and unacceptable violence in Aguelhok. There were summary executions of soldiers, civilians," Development Minister Henri de Raincourt told RFI radio.
Raincourt said some of the victims had their throats slit, while others were shot in the head at point blank range. "What's important is that the hostilities stop as quickly as possible," he added.
"There's talk of around 100 who were captured and killed in cold blood," he added, saying the tactic "resembled that used by Al-Qaeda."
Separately, an official clarified the death toll.
"In total there were exactly 82 deaths, no civilians," a source close to the matter told AFP, citing Malian official sources.
The source confirmed that the attacks on Aguelhok occurred on January 24, the date that Malian authorities had previously alleged Tuareg rebels working with Al Qaeda had struck.
At that point, France played down reports of an Al-Qaeda role in the deaths, insisting that the Tuareg rebellion and Al-Qaeda were not the same thing and do not work together.
Monday's announcement marked France's first suggestion of a link between Al-Qaeda's North African wing and the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) and other Tuareg rebels, who joined forces at the end of 2011.
The Tuareg rebels -- whose numbers include those who had returned from fighting in Libya for Moamer Kadhafi -- are demanding greater autonomy for their nomadic desert tribes.
The latest fighting began on January 17, when the MNLA launched an attack in northern Mali. This sparked clashes with the army and has become the largest offensive by Tuaregs since 2009.
On Thursday, Mali's army launched airstrikes to halt a rebel advance, and witnesses reported army helicopters were hitting targets in the northeast of the impoverished West African country, a former French colony.
Fighting continued on Saturday, when government troops regained control of the town of Lere, which had been under rebel control for around 10 days.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has visited the area to evaluate the situation and to distribute rice, salt, oil and basic necessities to the 4,000 displaced individuals around the city of Aguelhok.
"We continue to be in northern Mali to respond to the needs of the population," an ICRC spokesman said.
The Red Cross had said Thursday that "at least 30,000 people are displaced in Mali and living in extremely precarious conditions."
A nomadic community of some 1.5 million people, Tuareg of various tribes are scattered between Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Niger and Mali.
Mali and Niger experienced uprisings as the Tuareg fought for recognition of their identity and an independent state in the 1960s, 1990s and early 2000s, with a resurgence between 2006 and 2009.
Many Tuareg left for Libya where they later fought for Kadhafi's regime, but after his death in October last year they returned, many of them still heavily armed, to their home countries.
Since the onset of the Tuareg rebellion, more than 20,000 people have fled the attacks to the neighbouring West African countries Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger, according to officials and aid groups.
Some have also fled to Algeria.
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