DAKAR — Clashes between the army and Tuareg rebels in northern Mali have forced 126,400 people to flee their homes since mid-January, the United Nations said in a statement on Friday.
The UN refugee agency meanwhile said it needed $35.6 million (26.5 million euros) to cover the needs of those displaced by the escalating conflict.
The UN office for humanitarian affairs (OCHA) said people were continuing to flee and estimated 61,400 were displaced internally, while 65,000 had sought refuge in Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Algeria.
In addition, at least 7,563 Niger citizens who were living in Mali had returned home.
"Host governments and several organisations have begun providing assistance and shelter, water and sanitation, food and education to the displaced and refugees," said the statement.
However OCHA said a far greater response is needed in the Sahelian region which is also facing a severe food crisis after poor rains and a failed harvest in 2011, threatening millions with a long and deadly lean season.
Tuareg rebels are waging their biggest offensive since a 2009 rebellion as they demand autonomy in Mali's vast north, and have launched several attacks on towns in the region since mid-January.
Independent death tolls have been hard to come by but one attack in the town of Aguelhoc left more than 80 dead, France and the Mali army said, charging soldiers and civilians had been summarily executed.
On Thursday Doctors Without Borders said a girl was killed and several wounded when the army bombed a camp housing about 20 displaced families.
A nomadic community of some 1.5 million people, Tuareg of various tribes are scattered between Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Niger and Mali.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said at a press briefing in Geneva that the situation in the region is very serious and "it is not getting the attention it needs."
He said the $35.6 million appeal would cover the needs of 85,000 people until July 2012.
"Refugees are in desperate need of adequate shelter. They also need food, water and sanitation, healthcare and education," UNHCR said.
The refugee agency has already provided food, tents and other essential relief items to more than 20,000 people in countries bordering 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 Moamer Kadhafi's regime, but after his death in October they returned, some heavily armed, to their home countries.
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