French defence minister warns Mali against Russian ‘mercenary’ firm

As some countries draw down their forces in Mali, the government is looking elsewhere to shore up its fight against jihadists

France’s defence minister has warned Mali that hiring paramilitaries from Russian private-security firm Wagner would isolate the country internationally, during a visit to the Sahel state.

Florence Parly told reporters on Monday that if Mali hired the firm, at a time when international partners fighting jihadism in the Sahel “had never been so numerous, such a choice would be that of isolation”.

The Russian company is considered close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has been accused of committing abuses.

The minister explained that France’s “abandonment” of Mali meant “everything had to be considered to secure the country,” the official said.

Parly responded that France was not abandoning Mali, the official added.

“Certainly this would not help our relation with the Mali government,” Borrell said.

Parly’s visit follows months of tense relations between France and Mali, exacerbated by two military coups in the space of one year.

Paris’ plan to reduce troop numbers across the Sahel, with several French army bases in northern Mali set to close by early 2022, is also a source of friction.

Russian paramilitaries, private-security instructors and companies have grown increasingly influential in Africa in recent years, particularly in the conflict-ridden Central African Republic (CAR), where the United Nations has accused Wagner contractors of committing abuses.

The UN has 13,000 peacekeepers in Mali.

– Political turmoil –

Under the threat of sanctions, the military then appointed an interim civilian government tasked with steering the country back to democratic rule.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced his troop reductions in July in the aftermath of the second coup.

But rampant insecurity in Mali, which has left swathes of the country outside of government control, has cast doubt on the reform timetable.

Originally published as French defence minister warns Mali against Russian ‘mercenary’ firm

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