A liberation movement in northern Mali is fighting a separatist campaign against government forces. The conflict is compounded by fighting between Tuareg fighters, who fought alongside Moammar Gadhafi's forces in Libya, and Malian troops.
U.N. spokesman Adrian Edwards told the BBC around 60,000 people are displaced in the country and another 69,000 have fled to neighboring countries.
"Over a space of a few weeks we have seen literally tens of thousands of people being displaced to at least four countries surrounding Mali, plus smaller numbers in Togo, Guinea as well," he said.
Aid group Doctors Without Borders joined Amnesty International in calling for the protection of civilians. The Malian government denies it targeted civilians, blaming rebel forces who it says are working with al-Qaida.
The International Committee of the Red Cross warned this week that the fighting is compounded by food shortages due to poor harvests in the region. The aid group said the scarcity of resources could exacerbate a tense situation.