On Wednesday, a witness told the AP that Malian soldiers shot people accused of ties to the radical Islamists at a bus stop in Konna, along the dividing line, and threw their bodies into nearby wells around the time when the French campaign began. Also Wednesday, French human rights group FIDH accused Malian forces of dozens of ‘‘summary executions’’ in the area.
French President Francois Hollande authorized a military intervention two weeks ago and fighter jets have pounded rebel training camps, arms depots and bases. Since then, the Islamists appear to have fled from the cities, although they still remain firmly in control of much of northern Mali, likely using their desert bases and the area’s natural topography, including cave systems in the Kidal region.
SITE said that in Ansar Dine’s statement, the group said ‘‘it had no intention to take over the capital, Bamako, and push to the south, and that France used those allegations to justify its colonial ambitions.’’ The group also added that the fighters’ withdrawal was ‘‘a strategic choice and was not forced upon them by the enemy, except in the case of protecting civilian lives and property.’’
The French military said late Wednesday that 2,300 French troops are involved in code-named operation Serval, and the African contingent totals 1,500 soldiers in both Mali’s capital, Bamako, and the capital of neighboring Niger, Niamey. France says it will stay as long as needed, but that it hopes African forces will eventually take the lead.
France — Mali’s former colonial ruler — has received logistical help from Western allies including Britain, Germany, Denmark and the United States, but no Western troops have been committed to fighting alongside the French and Africans.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking Thursday about the Mali situation in Davos, Switzerland, said the military action needed to be supported by ‘‘an intelligent political response’’ to resolve the crisis in the longer term.
‘‘The French are right to act in Mali and I back that action,’’ he said, adding: ‘‘We need to address the poisonous narrative these terrorists feed on, close down the ungoverned space in which they thrive and deal with the grievances they use to garner support.’’
Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Dakar, Senegal, Baba Ahmed in San, Mali, and Angela Charlton in Davos, Switzerland, contributed to this report.