New York, US (PANA) - The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed ''deep concern'' about the deteriorating political and security situation in Mali, where thousands of people continue to flee their homes due to fighting between government forces and Tuareg rebels in the country’s north.
''The north of the country is becoming more and more dangerous due to the proliferation of armed groups in the region,” UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said in a statement.
The statement, which was made available to PANA in New York on Wednesday, quoted Fleming as saying ''more than 2,000 people have fled to Burkina Faso and Mauritania over the past five days because of the insecurity and the political instability stemming from
the military coup''.
According to her, the majority of the refugees are Tuaregs, but there are also ethnic Peuls, Arabs and Bambara
Ms Fleming said refugees pouring into neighbouring countries are reporting the presence of armed militiamen and home guards units set up by local communities to defend themselves.
''Most tell UNHCR staff that they fled because they were worried about armed robbers and feared there would be more heavy fighting in the north, while some said they left their homes due to lack of food,” Fleming noted.
''Others told our teams that they decided to leave Mali when hopes for a negotiated peace between the government and Tuareg rebels in the north faded after the coup,'' the spokesperson added.
She said that the agency was stepping up its assistance to Malian refugees across the Sahel region who face acute water and food shortages.
''Tuareg fighters captured several big towns in the north last week, preventing UNHCR and other aid agencies from reaching those in need of assistance.
''UNHCR is calling on all parties to refrain from any action that could put fleeing populations in danger or hamper their movement to safer areas,” the UNHCR spokesperson said.
Renewed fighting in northern Mali has uprooted more than 200,000 people since January, with the majority seeking safety in neighbouring countries and some 93,000 believed to be internally displaced.
The country is also dealing with a coup by rebel Malian soldiers who took control of the country some 10 days ago and announced the dissolution of the Government led by President Amadou Toumani Toure.
-0- PANA AA/SEG 4April2012