Obama releases $10 million in emergency funds for Malian refugees

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The release of the funds comes as international outrage against the northern rebels is mounting following reports that Islamist elements are destroying ancient Muslim shrines in Timbuktu, a World Heritage site. The destruction of the tombs of 16th century Sufi saints is reminiscent of the destruction of Afghanistan's Buddhist heritage by the Taliban a decade ago.

“We strongly condemn the attacks against civilians in northern Mali, as well as the reported destruction and looting of religious, historical and cultural sites in Timbuktu,” Vietor said. “We call on the rebel groups in northern Mali to renounce any connection with terrorist groups and enter into legitimate political negotiations. In addition, we urge all parties to ensure neutral, impartial and unhindered humanitarian access to all populations in northern Mali.”

Ongoing violence has prompted regional powers to consider a military intervention to drive out Islamists and reunify the country. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Thursday that "at one moment or another there will probably be the use of force," Reuters reports, although Fabius added that it would be African-led but supported by international forces.

The Obama administration however has cautioned against a military attack.

“We are coordinating closely with our mission in the United Nations to press the African Union and ECOWAS [the Economic Community of West African States] to define a clear mission for their proposed ECOWAS peacekeeping mission in Mali,” Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson testified before a House panel last month. “That said, we think an ECOWAS mission to militarily retake the north is ill-advised and not feasible.”