UN: French airstrike killed 19 civilians at Mali wedding party





A Bangladeshi United Nations soldier walks by a car during the weekly cattle market on March 7, 2017 in Gao, Mali. (ALEXANDER KOERNER / GETTY IMAGES / BLOOMBERG)

BAMAKO – A French airstrike in January killed 19 civilians and three armed men at a wedding in the remote desert of central Mali, United Nations investigators said on Tuesday, contradicting France’s account that only Islamist militants were hit.

The MINUSMA report said 19 people, including 16 civilians and three of the armed men, were killed immediately in the air attack

France immediately rejected the findings, which are likely to fuel domestic criticism of Mali’s former colonial master. France has more than 5,000 troops in Mali and neighboring countries to battle groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

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The human rights division of the United Nations mission in Mali (MINUSMA) said it had visited the village of Bounti where the attack took place on Jan. 3, analysed satellite images and interviewed more than 400 people, including at least 115 in face-to-face, individual sessions.

“MINUSMA is able to confirm that a wedding celebration was held that brought together about 100 civilians at the site of the strike, among whom five armed individuals, presumed members of Katiba Serma, were present,” the report said.

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Katiba Serma is an armed group affiliated with al Qaeda.

The MINUSMA report said 19 people, including 16 civilians and three of the armed men, were killed immediately in the air attack, while three more civilians died while being transferred to medical care.

In a statement, France’s armed forces ministry said the strike followed a “robust targeting process” that identified the targets as militants.