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Charity helps Mali refugees

18 January 2013


Going in: a French élite Special Operations soldier drives through Markala

Going in: a French élite Special Operations soldier drives through Markala

REFUGEES fleeing the conflict in Mali must be granted safe passage, the charity World Vision has said, after the British Government dispatched military personnel to the country.

The charity estimates that 9400 families have fled from territories held by Islamist rebels in the north of the country to its project areas in the south. Almost 21,000 children sponsored by World Vision supporters live in the city of Koro, in the Mopti region, near the front line of the conflict. The charity is providing emergency food supplies.

France launched a surprise intervention in Mali last Friday, after the Malian government appealed for help when rebels seized control of the town of Konna, regarded as a gateway to the capital, Bamako, in the south. It has since carried out a number of air raids, and the French government has announced plans to deploy 2500 soldiers to the country.

The intervention pre-empted an African-led military intervention sanctioned by the UN Security Council last month ( News, 4 January), but not expected to take place until September. The mission, co- ordinated by the Economic Community of West African States, is now expected to be deployed within days. "We are faced with blatant aggression that is threatening Mali's very existence," the French President, François Hollande, said on Friday.

On Monday, the British Foreign Office announced that it was providing two military aircraft to help transport French troops and equipment to Mali. No British forces will be involved in combat. Last weekend, the Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds said that the UK had been concerned about the situation in northern Mali "for some time". It was "controlled by al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations, and that potentially poses a direct threat to the UK and regional stability".

On Monday, the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, called for mediation and "the development of a consensual roadmap for a political transition". The Malian government and rebel groups are expected to meet for peace talks in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, on Monday.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that more than 30,000 people fled their homes in Mali over the weekend, bringing the number of internally displaced persons in the country to more than 200,000.

The agency estimates that 4.2 million Malians will need humanitarian assistance this year, including two million "food insecure people" and hundreds of thousands of malnourished children. UNICEF warned on Tuesday that children were at risk of being separated from their families, and were vulnerable to many forms of abuse, including military recruitment and sexual violence.


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