Tuareg civilians are fleeing from the conflict region near the Algerian border - Algeria denies protection – The number of civilian casualties is rising

Humanitarian crisis in northern Mali escalates:

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) warns about an escalation of the humanitarian crisis in northern Mali. During the last five days, more than 6,000 Tuareg civilians fled from the embattled massif Adrar des Ifoghas – in the north-east of the country, near the Algerian border – reported the human rights organization in Göttingen on Monday. The number of women, children and elderly people arriving at the border is rising. There is no protection offered by Algeria, the state closed the southern borders to prevent the infiltration of Islamic extremists. "We fear another exodus of the civilian population of north- eastern Mali," said the STP's expert on questions regarding Africa, Ulrich Delius. The civilian population is expecting further heavy fighting in the remote mountainous areas.

Last week – after dozens of air raids against the massif, where radical Islamists were suspected – France chose to stop the bombings because of a lack of targets. Chadian ground troops will now search the retreat areas of the radical Islamist insurgents to find Islamist fighters. "This means no good for the Tuareg living in the region by tradition," said Delius. Once again, their traditional land will be invaded by foreigners who don't care much about the civilian population.

"A high number of civilian casualties is to be expected in this difficult terrain," said Delius. "For how should soldiers from the Chad or from other African nations be able to distinguish between uninvolved civilians and radical Islamists?" We fear that the objective will be to kill anyone they encounter in the mountains." The STP sends an appeal to all the involved parties to ensure the protection of the civilians during the expected fighting.

The French troops dread the mountain massif because of its countless caves and valleys. The area offers several hideout places for the Islamist fighters and cannot be controlled easily. Military experts assume that the terrorist movement "Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb" (AQMI) and their allied militias have created an extensive system of caves and tunnels in which the fighters are now hiding – and storing their weapons and fuel supplies. Also, there are supposed to be seven French citizens being kept as hostages since they were kidnapped in Niger in 2010.