NIAMEY, Niger, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer said Monday he was "very concerned" about the security situation in northern Mali.
Maurer is on a three-day mission of the Sahel region of North Africa. He said from Niger that conflict in northern Mali was having an effect on the entire region.
"The ICRC is very concerned about the conflict's effects on the people living in northern Mali," he said in a statement.
Food shortages in the region, he added, are complicating the plight of the thousands of refugees fleeing Mali to neighboring countries.
Foreign rebels and fighters loyal to al-Qaida claimed autonomy for northern Mali following an early 2012 coup. Members of the Economic Community of West African States have proposed a neutral stand-by force to help address lingering security concerns in the country.
Deputy U.N. Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told a meeting of U.N., ECOWAS and African Union officials that a credible political strategy was needed for Mali.
"Any military action must also support a coherent political strategy for the country's reunification," he said. "And for the international community to back an international military force, human rights and humanitarian law must be scrupulously respected."