French forces responded to a Malian request for military assistance Jan. 11. Control over northern territory was lost to al-Qaida and foreign rebels following a military coup early last year.
Adama Dieng, U.N. special adviser on the prevention of genocide, said he was concerned that Malian forces may seek revenge as they press north.
"While the liberation of towns once under the control of the rebel and extremist groups has brought hope to the populations of northern Mali, I am deeply concerned at the risk of reprisal attacks against ethnic Tuareg and Arab civilians," he said in a statement.
Dieng echoed concerns raised by the International Criminal Court, which said it was worried by alleged abuses by Malian forces.
"I am deeply disturbed by reports of violations committed by the army and by reports that the armed forces have been recruiting and arming proxy militia groups to instigate attacks against particular ethnic and national groups in northern Mali," Dieng said.
Northern rebels have faced similar allegations of grave violations of human rights. The destruction of historic artifacts in Timbuktu has added to those concerns.