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UN rights expert concerned with ongoing violence, refugee safety in Mali

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) [official website] on Tuesday expressed concern [press release] over political and security instability in Mali, and how ongoing fighting between government forces and Tuareg rebels will affect Malians forced to flee their homes in search of safety. UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told reporters [press release] the the north of the country is becoming "more dangerous" because of "the proliferation of armed groups," and reported that the violence has caused more than 200,000 people to leave the region since January in search of safety in nearby areas. Fleming added that since a group of rebel soldiers in control of the country announced the dissolution of the government of President Amadou Toumani Toure [Al Jazeera profile] only 10 days ago, more than 2,000 Malians have fled to Burkina Faso and Mauritania over the last five days. While the UNHCR reports that many of those fleeing have done so out of fears of armed robbers and increased fighting in the north, others have done so due to lack of food. This ongoing violence has prevented UNHCR from delivering aid and assistance to those in the north, and while many Malians have been successful in relocating, the organization believes that more than 93,000 Malians are internally displaced within the country.

Last month, Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo led Malian soldiers in a military coup [JURIST report] to overthrow the 20-year-old democracy of President Toure. The coup arose from the group's belief that Toure had failed to properly respond to Islamic rebel attacks, made primarily by Tuareg nomads, in the north of the country. The situation worsened only 10 days later, however, when Tuareg rebels took control [AP report] of three northern cities and pushed out Malian military forces. The UNHCR has maintained a close watch of the Mali situation, and last month reported that more than 80,000 people had fled [press release] the country to escape the fighting. In February, the UNHCR requested additional funds and resources [report, PDF] to deal with the crisis, just after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] expressed concern [statement] about the growing number of refugees in the region. The Tuareg rebels initially attacked Malian soldiers [Al Jazeera report] in January, which has incited back-and-forth fighting throughout the northern regions of the country ever since.

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