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French drone strike in Mali kills 19 civilians at wedding event
A French military drone strike in Mali has reportedly killed civilians attending a wedding event in a remote village amid France’s persisting military intervention in its former African colony under the pretext of fighting rising militancy in the impoverished — though minerals-rich –nation.
The aerial strike in central Mali’s isolated Douentza area came at a moment of growing anti-French sentiment and armed resistance across the West African country in response to the eight-year military presence of the former colonial power.
An advocacy group for Fulani herders, known as Jeunesse Tabital Pulaaku, released a list on Thursday of 19 people it said were killed by the French airstrike, including the father of the groom, as well as seven others it said were injured in the attack while attending the wedding ceremony.
“Those who were killed were civilians,” said the group’s president, Hamadoun Dicko, as quoted in a Reuters report on Friday, noting: “Whether there were jihadists around at the moment of the raid or not, I don’t know.”
The report further cited a health worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as confirming on Tuesday that civilians had been “mistakenly hit in the strike.”
This is while on Thursday Mali’s Paris-sponsored government and the French military denied eye-witness accounts and other reports blaming the French air strike for the civilian fatalities in the area, claiming that only Muslim militants were targeted.
The French army further insisted that the targets were “Islamist fighters,” claiming that their identities were confirmed by its drones prior to the bloody attack and subsequent checks following the strike.
“No collateral damage, no sign of a festive gathering or a marriage,” the French army command declared in a statement, describing the targeted site as lightly wooded and claiming that “no women or children were observed” in the area.
According to the army statement, a group of nearly 40 men was monitored by the REAPER drone for more than an hour and a half before the strike, which was carried out over one kilometer from the nearest dwellings on the edge of the village of Bounti.
Repeating the French version of events, Mali’s Defense Ministry further cited surveillance images” to state, “the strike took place during a joint operation with French forces and killed about 30 militants.”
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