PARIS – The French Defense Ministry categorically rejected Tuesday that its forces in Mali attacked and killed civilians attending a village wedding party in January, following a UN investigation.
The department challenged the report’s methodology, saying in particular that it relies on unidentified local witnesses and does not specify the conditions under which their testimony was collected.
“On the contrary, this strike followed a robust targeting process,” the ministry said.
The January 3 strike in the Bounti region killed at least 20 people and was immediately followed by allegations that French forces in Mali organized a wedding party, which France quickly denied. French authorities said at the time that “several dozen” extremists had been killed.
The contradictory accounts led to an investigation by MINUSMA, the UN mission in Mali, the results of which were obtained Tuesday by the French press. The report concluded that French planes had struck a wedding party of around 100 people, including five armed people, suspected members of a group linked to Al-Qaida, according to the French press.
Shortly after the strike, witnesses gave conflicting accounts to The Associated Press, with some claiming that a helicopter carried out strikes and others referring to multiple strikes.
France has denied that a helicopter took part in the operation or that a wedding party was targeted.
“Some witnesses therefore claimed to have seen a helicopter when neither Malian nor French forces engaged helicopters in the area that day,” the ministry said in a statement. “Others talked about a plane flying at low altitude when the plane that took part in the strike was several kilometers high.”
“The Ministry of Defense cannot consider that this report provides any evidence contradicting the facts described by the French armed forces,” the statement said.
He insisted that international humanitarian law governing armed conflict was strictly observed during the strike.
The French Operation Barkhane, with some 5,000 soldiers, fights Islamist extremists in the Sahel region of Africa. France first intervened in Mali in 2013 to prevent the jihadists from advancing towards Bamako, the capital, after taking control of several towns in the north.