BAMAKO, Jan 7 (Reuters) – Mali’s defence ministry on Thursday denied mounting claims that a French air strike killed civilians attending a wedding, insisting that only Islamist militants were hit.
The precise circumstances of the raid on Sunday in central Mali’s remote Douentza area remain unclear. The incident comes at a moment of rising anti-French sentiment in Mali regarding the former colonial power’s seven-year military intervention.
Jeunesse Tabital Pulaaku, an advocacy group for Fulani herders, published a list on Thursday of 19 people it said were killed, including the father of the groom, and seven more it said were wounded in the strike while attending a wedding.
“Those who were killed were civilians,” Hamadoun Dicko, the group’s president told Reuters. “Whether there were jihadists around at the moment of the raid or not, I don’t know.”
A health worker, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters on Tuesday that civilians had been mistakenly hit in the strike.
The French government has not made an official statement on the strike. A French army source said on Tuesday that the targets were Islamist fighters whose identities were confirmed by drone before the attack and on the ground afterwards.
In its first public comment on the matter, Mali’s defence ministry said on Thursday that the strike took place during a joint operation with French forces and killed about 30 militants, according to surveillance images.
“There was no sign of a marriage, women or children,” it said in a statement.
France has more than 5,100 military personnel based in Mali and other former colonies in West Africa to help counter militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.
But its intervention has come at a cost. Five French soldiers were killed in Mali in recent days and Malian citizens have increasingly taken to the streets and social media to voice opposition to France’s military presence. (Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Additional reporting and writing by Aaron Ross Editing by Alexandra Hudson)
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