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Reactions trail UN probe indicting French force for civilian deaths in Mali

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UN Inquiry

Reactions have began to follow the UN probe which links France to the recent airstrike that killed 19 civilians gathered for a wedding in Mali. The report pulished on Tuesday has prompted a strong denial from France.

Dr Hamadoune Dicko, is the président of the Jeunesse Tabital Pu laaku a rights group based in Mali.

"Thank God, the Minusma has just published its report giving us 100% reason. Because we reported from the beginning that 19 victims were killed, all Fulani civilians. Today, the report confirms that there were 19 civilians killed by the Barkhane force"- he said.

In the report summarising the probe's findings, the UN said Tuesday a wedding had in fact taken place and had "gathered about 100 civilians at the site of the strike". The UN investigation analyzed satellite images and interviewed 400 people

"For the moment, we are saying what we should do? Are we going to file a complaint right away or are we going to wait? Because there are human rights organisations working on this. There are many good people working on this and even the United Nations. The United Nations should go further and identify the culprits who ordered the hit on a wedding and see how to name and arrest those responsible" - Dr Hamadoune Dicko said.

France has 5,100 troops across the Sahel region to fight militants tied to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.

The French air force struck near the remote village of Bounti on January 3, in circumstances that sparked controversy in the war-torn Sahel state. Residents of the village said the strike hit a wedding party and killed civilians.

In the incident's aftermath, France's military said it had killed jihadists, not civilians, and also denied the presence of a wedding party in Bounti.

The United Nations mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, subsequently launched an investigation.

In a report summarising the probe's findings, the UN said Tuesday a wedding had in fact taken place and had "gathered about 100 civilians at the site of the strike".

It added that about five armed people, who are thought to be members of the jihadist group Katiba Serma, attended the celebrations.

In Paris, the French defence ministry stood by its denial, saying it "maintains with consistency and reaffirms strongly" that an "armed terrorist group" had been identified and attacked.

It also said it had "numerous reservations about the methodology" used in the investigation.

- 'Protected by law' -

At least 22 people died in the French strike, of whom 19 were civilians, according to the probe. No women or children were killed.

"The group affected by the strike was overwhelmingly composed of civilians who are protected persons under international humanitarian law," said the report.

The report also questioned whether the French military had enough time to ensure that its strike would not harm civilians.

"It appears difficult to discount the presence of civilians... in such a short period of time," it said.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the report "raises some very significant concerns on the respect of the conduct of hostilities, including precautionary principles and the obligation by member states to do everything (they can) to verify that targets are indeed military objectives."

The UN report constitutes a rare criticism of the actions of French forces in Mali.

Mali has been struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency which first broke out in the north of the country in 2012 before spreading to the centre and neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

France, the former colonial power, intervened in Mali in 2013 to beat back the jihadists, and now has some 5,100 soldiers deployed across the semi-arid Sahel region.

Central Mali, where the strike on Bounti occurred, is an epicentre of the brutal conflict.