Amnesty International is accusing Malian soldiers and insurgents of executing civilians during fierce fighting in the west African country.

In a report released Friday, Amnesty International says Malian troops executed civilians, often claiming they were extremists based on their ethnicity or clothing. The report is based on evidence gathered by Amnesty during a 10-day mission to the country.

The insurgents also stand accused of extrajudicial killings and Amnesty warns there is mounting evidence that the insurgents — who are backed by al-Qaeda — have been recruiting and deploying child soldiers.

Amnesty International, which works to defend human rights around the world, also condemned French airstrikes. The report says one strike led to the deaths of five civilians, including three children.

"As fighting is continuing in Mali, all parties to the conflict must ensure that they respect international humanitarian law," Amnesty’s Mali researcher, Gaëtan Mootoo, said.

Dioncounda Traore, the interim Mali president, rejected the report’s findings, telling Reuters that the army has only waged war against insurgents and aimed to curb looting in recaptured towns. He denied claims that soldiers have sought revenge against those who pushed them from their territories.

French President François Hollande is set to travel to Mali this weekend, along with his defence and foreign affairs ministers. Around 5,000 French soldiers are in Mali, where they continue to push insurgents out of northern towns and into the country’s desert area.

The CBC’s Laura Lynch reports there have been jubilant scenes in Mali’s northern region, where French troops have liberated citizens from insurgents. But, in the capital Bamako, which militants had threatened to enter in mid-January, many are worried about what will happen when the French leave.

Ethnic tensions high in recaptured towns

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A Malian woman in Timbuktu wears the Islamic veil she says she was forced to wear before French troops captured the city. (Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty)

For its part, the United Nations has called for a peacekeeping force of up to 5,000 troops to remain in the country. The move would have to be approved by the UN Security Council.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, is calling on Mali to launch an independent, impartial investigation into the allegations of extrajudicial killings.

"Many people are genuinely afraid of being arrested, or worse, by the military," Mootoo said. "The security forces must ensure that people are protected from any reprisals based on ethnicity or perceived political sympathy."

Human Rights Watch has also expressed concerns about ethnic violence emerging in Mali.

Corinne Dufka, a senior researcher with the organization, told the Associated Press there have been violent reprisals in the town of Gao, which had been controlled by insurgents but was recaptured last week.

People have targeted the homes of individuals who either housed Islamist fighters or are accused of collaborating with them, notably Arab traders, Dufka said.

In Timbuktu, over a dozen shops owned by the city's Arab population have been gutted and pillaged because the town's Arab citizens were suspected of having been allied with the Islamists.

Malian Col. El Hadj Ag Gamou, who leads a force of around 500 troops working near Gao, denied claims that ethnic tension is rife in the area.

Col. Gamou, himself a Tuareg — one of the groups that has faced discrimination — told Reuters that there is no unfairness toward light-skinned Malians, Tuaregs or Arabs.

With files from The Associated Press