Human rights groups say a French-led offensive against Islamists in Mali had led to civilian deaths in airstrikes and ethnic reprisals by Malian troops, ahead of President Francois Hollande's visit today.

France has deployed more than 3500 ground forces in a three-week campaign that has wrested control of northern Mali's towns from an al Qaeda-linked alliance.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch cited eyewitness reports of extrajudicial killings by Malian Government soldiers of dozens of civilians in Sevare and Konna.

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They said the troops targeted light-skinned Arab and Tuareg ethnic groups associated with the rebels. The Malian military has denied any reprisal killings.