France increases Mali aid after scathing UN report

Paris increased funding to €6m this year amid criticism over air strike

United Nations vehicles patrol in front of the mosque Sankore in Tombouctou on March 31, 2021. A symbolic euro was handed over to the government of Mali and UNESCO for damage inflicted by Islamists who wrecked Timbuktu's World Heritage-listed mausoleums in 2012. Fatou Bensouda, the ICC's chief prosecutor, said the case represented the international community's commitment to "defend the foundation of our common identity." / AFP / MICHELE CATTANI

France on Tuesday announced an increase in aid to Mali to €6 million ($7.11m) this year after the release of a UN report criticising a French air strike that killed civilians in the turbulent Sahel nation.

Nathalie Estival-Broadhurst, France's deputy UN ambassador, said Paris would this year provide an extra €1m to a UN fund focused on the Sahel, where French and other foreign forces were battling an insurgency.

The humanitarian cash injection came a week after the release of a UN report that criticised France for an air strike on January 3 that killed 19 civilians and three armed men at a wedding in the remote desert of central Mali.

“We all know that stabilising the region requires a significant effort in terms of humanitarian aid and development,” Ms Estival-Broadhurst told the UN Security Council.

“We welcome [UN aid chief] Mark Lowcock’s decision to set up a regional fund for Central Western Africa, focused in particular on the Sahel. France will contribute to this to the tune of €1m.”

Investigators with the UN mission in Mali (Minusma) last week concluded that the French air strike had struck a gathering of about 100 people in the village of Bounti.

Five armed individuals, presumed members of Katiba Serma, an Al Qaeda-linked group, were at the celebration, UN investigators said.

France has rejected the findings and questioned the credibility of the report.

The former colonial power in Mali has been embroiled in the conflict since 2013 and has stationed more than 5,000 troops there and in neighbouring countries to battle groups linked to Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Minusma has deployed more than 13,000 troops to contain violence by armed groups in the north and centre of Mali. It has recorded about 230 fatalities since 2013, making it the deadliest UN blue helmet mission.

Four Chadian UN peacekeepers were killed and several others injured when "heavily armed terrorists" attacked its base in the northern Mali town of Aguelhok on Friday, said Minusma.

“We condemn this violence in the strongest terms possible, and we commend the bravery and dedication of our peacekeepers,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Washington's UN ambassador, told the council.

“The safety and security of peacekeepers is a priority for the United States, and we will continue to take concrete action to strengthen peacekeeper safety.”