French airstrike in Mali killed 19 unarmed civilians in January: UN
United Nations investigators have said a French air attack in Mali killed at least 19 civilians in January during a wedding party in the West African nation, confirming locals’ accounts and contradicting France’s version that only rebel fighters were hit.
The human rights division of the United Nations mission in Mali (MINUSMA) said on Tuesday it had visited the village of Bounti where the attack took place on January 3, analysed satellite images and interviewed more than 400 people, including at least 115 in face-to-face, individual sessions.
“MINUSMA is able to confirm that a wedding celebration was held that brought together about 100 civilians at the site of the strike,” the report, released on Tuesday said.
It said 16 civilians were killed immediately in the air attack, while three more civilians died while being transferred to medical care.
The findings constitute a rare criticism of the actions of French forces in Mali.
“The group affected by the strike was overwhelmingly composed of civilians who are protected persons under international humanitarian law,” the report said.
Observers accuse France of pursuing neo-colonialism in Africa, falsely claiming to fight terrorism as a pretext to maintain its influence in the region.
Anti-French sentiment is rampant in Mali and Burkina Faso. On the streets of Bamako, Mali’s capital, many say that France is actually trying to keep the country weak so the former colonial power can exploit secret gold and oil reserves in the Sahara.
An opinion poll published last month showed for the first time that the majority of French people – some 51 percent – oppose the operation in the Sahel. This has put pressure on Macron to consider a withdrawal before a 2022 presidential election.