London – Clashes between armed groups in northern Mali have forced almost 60 000 people to flee their homes in the past month, the United Nations refugee agency said amid escalating violence that threatened to derail UN-brokered peace efforts.
A ceasefire deal was signed between the government, its allies and northern separatist groups last year, but violations have increased since pro-government fighters seized the flashpoint town of Menaka late last month.
Mali’s government and allied militia signed a UN-backed peace deal in March, but Tuareg-led rebels said more talks were needed, delaying international efforts to restore order to a zone awash with separatist and Islamist gunmen.
Tens of thousands of people have fled their villages in Gao, Mopti and Timbuktu in northern Mali in recent weeks due to fear of violence or forced recruitment by armed groups and many are sleeping outdoors, according to the UNHCR.
Hundreds of refugees have also crossed into neighbouring Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso since the end of April.
The UNHCR said the violence had exacerbated tensions between villagers. Refugees who fled to Niger from a single village in Gao do not want to live in the same camp as they accuse each other of having links to opposing armed groups, the UNHCR said.
Human rights abuses
More than 100 000 people have been uprooted within Mali since conflict broke out between pro-government forces and rebel groups in 2012, while some 137 500 people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, according to the refugee agency.
Violence has continued in northern Mali despite a 2013 French-led intervention that pushed back al Qaeda-linked fighters who hijacked the Tuareg-led rebellion and seized two-thirds of the country in 2012.
The UN mission in Mali said last week it was investigating reports of serious human rights abuses, including the execution of civilians in the north of the country.
Clashes last week killed at least six civilians, including a Malian aid worker, rebels and a local source said at the time.
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