France reviews response to Mali junta’s expulsion of its top envoy

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France said Tuesday that it would review along with EU partners its military presence in Mali, a day after the junta in Bamako ordered the French ambassador to leave the country. 

The expulsion of the French ambassador, made because of alleged “hostile” comments by the diplomat, raised fresh doubts over France’s continued military support for Mali, an impoverished former French colony and ally that is battling a nearly decade-long anti-jihadist campaign. 

“It is clear that the situation can’t go on like this,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told Franceinfo radio.

He said Paris and its European partners in the Takuba special forces unit would work “between now and mid-February” to decide on any changes to their presence in Mali.

Germany on Tuesday criticised as “unjustified” the Mali junta’s decision to expel France’s ambassador and said it stood alongside its French ally.

“Unjustified expulsion of the French ambassador leads to a dead end,” the German foreign ministry tweeted. “Need dialogue, not escalation for the shared goal of security for Mali and the fight against terrorism. We stand firmly by France’s side.” 

Rebel officers led a coup in August 2020 that toppled Mali’s elected leader Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, who was facing angry protests at failures to stem the jihadists.

The following May, the junta pushed out a civilian-led government appointed to oversee a transition period and named the strongman Colonel Assimi Goïta as interim president.

EU to blacklist five junta members, say diplomats

France and its European allies have been alarmed at the junta’s reported decision to hire mercenaries from the Russian paramilitary group Wagner.

The European Union has agreed to impose travel bans and asset freezes on five members of Mali’s junta, Reuters reported on Tuesday, quoting three unnamed diplomats

The measures, which have political support of all 27 EU governments and should take effect later this month, follow a raft of restrictions against Mali by the ECOWAS grouping of West African states that has condemned the junta’s attempts to extend its rule.

ECOWAS imposed a trade embargo and border closures with Mali on January 9, a move backed by France, the EU and the US.

While the bloc is struggling to stabilise the broader Sahel region, local sentiment has hardened against European involvement in a region that has seen an increase in violence and instability despite the presence of international — mostly French — troops.

The names of the five individuals to be sanctioned were not immediately available. The diplomats said they were junta officials also targeted by ECOWAS. Mali’s foreign and defence ministers will not be targeted in order to keep diplomatic channels open, the diplomats said.

The EU travel bans and asset freezes are unlikely to have an immediate impact on the junta in Bamako but seek to make good on the bloc’s promise to support ECOWAS, even if the measures are more limited than those of the regional bloc.

France repeatedly warned that it would be untenable for its forces to fight alongside unaccountable mercenaries.

Paris has already started scaling back the Barkhane contingent, its own 5,100-strong anti-jihad force in the Sahel.

The goal is to halve Barkhane troop numbers by the summer of 2023, with the French-led European force Takuba taking up some of the slack.

Takuba’s task is to help train and fight alongside Malian units.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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