French minister travels to the Sahel while on loan from Russia to Mali. is spoken
NIAMEY, Sept. 19 (Reuters) – France’s army minister arrived in Niger on Sunday as part of a two-day visit to allies in the Sahel, where French-led military operations against Islamist militants are threatened by Mali’s talks with Russian defense contractors.
Diplomatic and security sources have told Reuters that Mali’s one-year military junta is on the verge of recruiting Russia’s Wagner group and France has launched a diplomatic attempt to thwart this, saying such an agreement was “incompatible” with a continued French presence . Continue reading
The main political bloc in West Africa, ECOWAS, has also voiced its concern.
But Mali’s junta has stepped in, noting that France has started scaling back its decades-long operation against insurgents linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State across the region, and expects other European countries like Germany to do more engage.
Mali’s Foreign Ministry on Sunday described objections from Niger to the prospect of a deal with Wagner as “unacceptable, unfriendly and condescending”.
A few days ago, Paris said it killed the leader of the Islamic State in Western Sahara in northern Mali, but France still found it harder to deal with the junta than previous civilian governments.
A source rapporteur for the French armed forces ministry said Parly would discuss France’s plans to reshape its operations with countries in the region, warn of consequences if Mali secures Wagner’s services and stress the importance of a democratic junta election next February, as promised. Continue reading
The French army began relocating troops from their bases in Kidal, Tessalit and Timbuktu in northern Mali earlier this month, French army sources said.
France wants to complete the redeployment by January. It is reducing its contingent from around 5,000 to 2,500 to 3,000, shifting more assets to Niger, and encouraging other European special forces to work with local forces.
The European armed force in the Sahel region currently comprises around 600 soldiers from nine countries.
Reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Bate Felix and Kevin Liffey
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