French troops in Mali have been accused of mistakenly killing fighters with an allied militia during an anti-Islamist operation. An armed group fighting alongside government forces against Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in the restive north of the country said four of its fighters were killed by friendly fire on the night of 19 December.
The French authorities said its forces carried out a raid against radicals with the al-Mourabitoun group in the northeastern Menaka region near the Niger border on 19 and 20 December. The defence ministry said about 10 extremists were killed or captured by the military that also seized weapons, explosives and numerous vehicles, including pick-up trucks and motorcycles, after hours of heavy fighting with the insurgents.
However senior commanders with the a militia part of a pro-government umbrella group called the 'Platform', said four of their fighters died under French shelling. "This weekend, near Meneka, the French army killed four of our fighters. They call it 'collateral damage'. These are our people who have been killed," Mohamed Ould Mataly a senior figure in the Movement of Azawad told AFP.
The French government has not officially commented on the issue but a military source speaking to the news agency denied the accusation, which was however backed by a statement from the Platform. The coalition said friendly fire on one of their outposts in Menaka left several people dead and others injured or missing.
"The Platform, while condemning religious extremism, attacks and terrorist provocations of all kinds, calls on international forces to act with discernment in order to avoid confusion and any further deterioration of an already difficult situation," the statement read.
France deployed troops to Mali in 2013 after an ethnic Tuareg rebellion in the north was hijacked by the al-Qaeda affiliates that seized large swathes of land and threatened the capital, Bamako. Its military intervention and UN peacekeeping mission have since returned control of the region to the Malian government, but Islamist cells continue to operate across the vast desert areas in the north, often crossing in and out of the porous borders of neighbouring countries.
Al-Mourabitoun militants claimed repsonsibility for an attack on the tourist hotspot Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako that killed 19 people in November.