THE conflict in Mali could drag on for months, cutting aid and basic services to civilians, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said yesterday.
French troops entered Mali last month to drive out rebels linked to al-Qaeda who had seized much of the north of the country last year, after a military coup in the capital Bamako.
But it is feared the French could become bogged down in a guerrilla war against the Islamists, as the former colonial power attempts to shore up a weak Malian army.
Jean-Nicolas Marti, head of ICRC regional delegation for Mali and Niger, said it was also becoming harder to contact armed Islamists groups to get security guarantees for its aid convoys.
Medical supplies are now being stockpiled at a hospital in the northern town of Gao.
“Contrary to what some people may have thought after the French and Malian armies retook major cities, the situation is not stable nor is it suitable for civilians to return,” Mr Marti told reporters in Geneva.
Gao was among the first towns entered by the French. The ICRC said six wounded Malian soldiers were treated there on Thursday, while more wounded soldiers were evacuated. Malian troops backed by French soldiers and attack helicopters killed 15 Islamists in Gao on Thursday in fighting to retake a mayor’s office occupied by militants who had infiltrated the town, France’s defence ministry said yesterday.
Two French soldiers were wounded in the fighting.
“In the medium term, the next few months or year or two, what worries me is that the kind of asymmetric conflict we now see sets in with a precarious security situation and populations that don’t have access to basic services,” Mr Marti said.