WASHINGTON - The White House released up to $10 million on Thursday for emergency relief efforts to aid Malian refugees fleeing the West African country, which has seen a coup and rising violence from Islamic extremists with links to al Qaeda.
The money, which comes from an emergency fund designed to provide refugee assistance, will finance relief and protection operations headed by the United Nations.
Almost 230,000 people have left Mali, according to the White House, while 155,000 are internally displaced, fuelling concerns of a massive humanitarian crisis in the region.
Mali, once seen by the United States as an important security partner in the region, descended into chaos after militants seized control of the north of the country and the military led a coup that ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure in March.
"We call on all parties to support the restoration of democratically elected civilian governance in Mali as soon as possible," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement, saying the interim government must issue plans for elections without delay.
Tuareg nomads launched anti-government revolt in January that was hijacked by Islamic-led rebels, who have tightened their grip on northern Mali and have been accused of raping, killing and torturing civilians.
Militants have also carried out a wave of attacks on Sufi shrines in the ancient city of Timbuktu, some of which are classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday that foreign powers may need to intervene military to stabilize the situation, but Washington has been cautious given the huge political and logistical challenges of the region.
Adam Smith, a senior member of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, said on Thursday that the northern part of the country had become uncontrollable.
"For right now it's not going to be a controllable situation. None of us are just going to go into Mali and fix it," Smith, a Democrat from Washington state said. "We're going to have to slowly rebuild a legitimate government in Mali so we can begin to partner with them on security."