PARIS: Amnesty International yesterday called on the French army to launch an independent investigation into the deaths of five civilians killed in a helicopter attack at the start of the Mali campaign.
A report from the London-based rights group also highlighted summary executions by Malian troops and militant groups, as well as the militants’ use of child soldiers.
Amnesty said at least five civilians, including a mother and three of her children, died during an assault on the central Malian town of Konna on the morning of Jan. 11.
The organization quoted relatives of Aminata Maiga, 40, as saying the woman and her children, Ali, 11, Adama, 10 and Zeinabour, 6, had been killed when rockets fired from a helicopter struck her house and an adjacent mosque.
A mechanic who was cycling past the Madrasatoun Sabilou Rachade mosque at the time of the attack was also killed by shrapnel, a witness told Amnesty.
Witnesses told the organization’s researchers, who visited Konna this week, that there were no members of armed groups or military targets in the house and mosque struck in the attack, although there were rebel fighters stationed at a crossroads 150 metres (yards) away.
The occupation of Konna by rebel groups triggered France’s military intervention in its former colony and its recapture was the first operation of the campaign.
Amnesty said the French army should “open an independent and impartial investigation into the Konna attack.” There was no immediate response from the French defense ministry.
Amnesty also urged the Malian authorities to investigate widepread reports of summary executions carried out by their troops, apparently in revenge for defeats the army suffered at the hands of Tuareg and militant last year.
The organization also called for the deployment of UN human rights monitors to report on abuses in conflict areas.
Amnesty is the latest rights organisation to sound the alarm over abuses taking place against the background of the conflict in Mali.
Human Rights Watch said Thursday that there had been very serious violations by all sides and voiced fear that reprisal killings would continue as the rebel groups are pushed out of urban centers in the north of the country.
The European Union has called for the swift deployment of international observers to monitor the rights situation in Mali.