BAMAKO, 6 January 2021 – France has denied accusations that its forces launched the airstrike which hit a wedding party in a remote village in Mali over the weekend, killing more than 20 people, including children.
Eyewitnesses of the incident which occurred in Bounti, a village in the central Mpoti region of Mali, told reporters that a helicopter opened fire on attendees at the wedding ceremony on Sunday.
The French military admit to carrying out a raid on the same day in the same region, but insist the strike was on jihadist militants and not on a wedding party.
Five French soliders have been killed in Mali’s restive northern regions in less than a fortnight.
On Tuesday, French defense officials said an airstrike by its soldiers in Mali had killed dozens of Islamist insurgents in the region.
Paris insisted that its military operations are carried out after detailed research and days of tracking the individuals.
A French military spokesperson cited Wednesday by the French News Agency said “reports relating to a wedding do not match the observations that were made”.
Bounti residents, who admitted they could not identify the helicopter, reaffirmed Wednesday in interviews with Malian journalists, that they watched a helicopter carry out the airstrike in broad daylight.
One of the locals, Ahmedou Ghana, told AFP that “it was run for your lives” at the wedding party, adding that two of his brothers were killed in the raid.
Last Saturday, two French soldiers, including the first female soldier to be killed in the Sahel, lost their lives when their armoured vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Menaka, situated in Mali’s eastern region.
The two were gathering intelligence at the time of their deaths.
A week earlier, three other French soldiers had been killed in another device explosion.
Militants of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) claimed responsibility for that first attack.
France has 5,100 soldiers in the Sahel region of Africa, working with the armed and security forces of several African countries to counter Islamist militancy and other terror groups.
French troops were first deployed in 2013 to the Sahel, the semi-arid stretch of tertitory that forms a belt across parts of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.