The arrival of foreign troops in Mali to assist the government in regaining control of its northern territory from separatists is posing new threats to the already dire humanitarian situation there.
Aid groups have called on the international community to keep in mind the plight of civilians in Mali as French troops heeded a call from President Dioncounda Traore, who declared a national state of emergency Friday (Jan. 11).
“Children are especially vulnerable when military operations are launched, and this latest move has to be managed carefully and those who would like to flee have a safe passage out,” said Chance Briggs, head of World Vision Mali.
Médecins Sans Frontières emergency response coordinator Rosa Crestani, meanwhile, said: “Because of the bombardments and fighting, nobody is moving in the streets of Douentza and patients are not making it through to the hospital … We call on all the parties to the conflict to respect the safety of civilians and to leave medical facilities untouched.”
In December, the U.N. Security Council adopted resolution 2085, which authorized the use of African-led international military force in Mali, and on Friday, the council called for rapid deployment. Meanwhile, France’s decision over the weekend to send military troops to Mali — its former colony — has received support from several Western governments.
The aid community has voiced concerns about the possible humanitarian impact of such an intervention for weeks, urging the United Nations to, at a minimum, ensure forces will receive training on international humanitarian, refugee and human rights law. They also asked donors to “be prepared” to provide more humanitarian aid “as necessary.” The instability has cost Mali in aid. The Millennium Challenge Corp., for one, terminated its $460 million compact with Mali in May.
But how it will figure in peace talks between the government and separatist groups, set for Jan. 21 in Burkina Faso, remains to be seen. The Economic Community of West African States is set to hold an emergency summit on the Malian crisis Jan. 19. The U.N. Security Council, at France’s request, will also meet today to discuss the situation in Mali, French U.N. Mission spokesman Brieuc Pont said in a tweet Sunday (Jan. 13).
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