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The French President Francois Hollande is on his way to Mali tonight in support of French and Malian troops engaged in battle against Islamist rebels.

But his trip risks being overshadowed by claims that the French-led offensive has resulted in civilian deaths and allegations of ethnic reprisals by Malian troops.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, cite eyewitness reports of extrajudicial killings by Malian soldiers of dozens of civilians in the central towns of Sevare and Konna.

France has deployed more than 3,500 ground forces to wrest control of northern Mali’s towns from an al Qaeda-linked alliance.

The Malian military has denied any reprisal killings by its soldiers while France says none of its helicopters have targeted any area inside the town of Konna.

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