France, 13 European countries and Canada denounce Russia-linked “mercenary deployments” in the western African nation of Mali as the government there battles Islamist militants who have killed thousands. and millions were displaced throughout the Sahel.
In a joint statement released on Thursday, the countries also called on Russia to “return to responsible and constructive behavior in the region”.
The security situation has worsen in Mali since June when France announced The weakening of forces there after a seven-year campaign known as Operation Barkhane failed to eliminate the jihadist threat in the Sahel region.
French President Emmanuel Macron justified the decision by saying that the French military, which has suffered 53 deaths in the region, can no longer compensate for the “non-work” of the Malian state. There have also been two coups in the capital city of Bamako in less than a year, which lasts longer Stressful relationship between France and Mali, its former colony.
Malian government officials have criticized France for a strategy they say has exacerbated the conflict and decided to cut its 5,000-strong military presence in half.
After the defeat to the French, Bamako start negotiating hires mercenaries from the Kremlin-linked private security Wagner Group, which is under US and EU sanctions.
Wagner is not a legal entity but a group of companies connected to Evgeny Prigozhin, the Russian businessman dubbed “Putin’s chef”. Its fighters have been accused of war crimes and human rights abuses in Libya and the Central African Republic. Prigozhin has denied banking the group.
France and other countries said they were “deeply regretful that the Malian transitional governments chose to use scarce public funds to pay the salaries of foreign mercenaries rather than support the Malian Armed Forces and their allies.” public service for the benefit of the Malian people”.
France’s Operation Barkhane began in 2013 with the aim of driving its al-Qaeda ally out of the Malian city of Timbuktu. But the conflict has since spread to countries like Niger and Chad as armed groups closely linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have launched attacks on civilian targets. and military.
After meeting his Malian counterpart in Moscow last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Kremlin was not involved in the mercenary deal but that Mali had the right to lease Russian fighter jets. “If they sign agreements with the legitimate governments of sovereign states, I don’t see anything negative in this,” he said.
Declarations were made by France, Great Britain, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania and Sweden.