New York - The United Nations on Wednesday expressed concern
over continuing violence against ethnic Tuaregs and Arabs in Mali, citing
evidence of new rights abuses against the two communities.
The UN Under Secretary for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman
said that while "arbitrary acts of violence" against Tuaregs and
Arabs had recently slowed, "there is still a risk of reprisal against
members of these communities".
"Worryingly, it appears from reports that new patterns
of human rights violations have emerged, including retaliatory attacks based on
ethnicity," Feltman added.
His remarks were made as he updated the 15-member UN
Security Council about the situation in the troubled west African nation, which
is still in the grips of an Islamist insurgency that gained momentum following
a March 2012 military coup.
The United Nations estimates that about 470 000 people have
fled the fighting and sought refuge either in Malian host communities or in neighbouring
More than 290 000 people are internally displaced and about
177 000 are refugees in Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso.
Feltman said there will be another 750 000 people in need of
immediate food assistance and 660 000 children at risk of malnutrition this
year, including 210 000 at risk of severe acute malnutrition.
Mali's military fell apart last year when Islamist
extremists seized the country's vast northern desert, terrorising locals with
amputations and executions performed under a brutal interpretation of sharia
A French-led intervention quickly drove out the insurgents
in its former colony, but significant pockets of resistance remain in the
Ifoghas mountains, as well as in the northern cities of Gao and Timbuktu.
Feltman said that "humanitarian access has improved in
some parts of the country," but that in some areas, particularly in
Timbuktu and Gao, "the situation remains highly volatile".
His remarks came one day after the European Union began a
full overhaul of Mali's ill-prepared army to help take the place of foreign
troops defending the country.
Paris is preparing to hand over to a UN-mandated African
force of 6 300 in the coming weeks.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has proposed putting in
place a UN stabilisation mission mostly recruited among Africans already part
of the Pan-African force Afisma, as well as a mostly French "parallel
force" to undertake counter-terrorism efforts that would combat the
Feltman warned on Wednesday that it is imperative that a
"clear distinction" be maintained between the two forces.
"Any blurring of the distinction would place severe
constraints on the ability of UN and other personnel to safely do their
work," he said.