Europe frets over civilian toll in Mali

Jan. 22, 2013 at 1:12 PM

BRUSSELS, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- A "triple crisis" that's fallen on the civilian population in Mali prompted the European Commission to boost its humanitarian aid, a crisis official said.

French forces responded Jan. 11 to a Malian request for military support to thwart the advance of Islamic rebels and foreign fighters from the north of the country. Militants claimed control over northern Mali in early 2012 following a coup in Bamako.

Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis response, said the European community was responding to civilian needs with $26.6 million in assistance.

"Since last year, the Malian people have been hit by a triple crisis: first a drought and crops failure, followed by a political crisis and then the outbreak of fighting when Islamist radical groups took control of the north," she said in a statement.

Georgieva expressed concern that violence in the north of the country has left more than 350,000 people displaced.

Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said refugees from northern Mali gave accounts of heavy fighting in the area. Most families fleeing the north, he said, are fearful of the strict application of Islamic law and fuel and food shortages.

More civilians, he added, are expected to leave northern regions as the conflict escalates. Western allies have said they'd back the French military incursion with logistical support.

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