Mali expels French ambassador for “scandalous remarks”

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Mali has expelled the French ambassador to Bamako as relations between the ruling military junta in the West African country and the former colonial power continue to deteriorate.

The interim government has asked Ambassador Joel Meyer to leave Mali within 72 hours after summoning him on Monday following remarks made by the French foreign minister. France is leading the fight against terrorism in Mali, which is at the heart of a jihadist insurgency that has killed thousands and displaced millions across the Sahel.

“This measure follows the hostile and scandalous remarks made recently by the French minister. . . and the recurrence of such remarks by the French authorities towards the Malian authorities, despite repeated protests. The government of Mali strongly condemns and rejects these remarks,” the interim government of Mali said in a statement read on Malian public television.

France said it had taken note of Mali’s decision and would recall Meyer. Paris has also expressed its solidarity with other West African governments who have called for the return of democracy to Mali. “France reiterates its commitment to the stabilization and development of the Sahel,” said a senior diplomat in Paris.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday the junta was “out of control” and illegitimate, while Defense Minister Florence Parly said on Saturday that French troops could withdraw completely of Mali amid a growing row over the junta’s decision to hire. the Wagner group, the group of Russian mercenaries linked to the Kremlin.

Mali’s government is led by Colonel Assimi Goita, the soldier who led a coup that overthrew the democratically elected government in August 2020, then took full control in a second coup in May 2021 , overthrowing interim civilian leaders seen as close to France.

Goita promised a quick transition to democracy, but this month proposed holding elections in December 2025, prompting harsh sanctions from the regional bloc Ecowas that effectively placed the country under an economic embargo.

Groups linked to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda control large parts of central and northern Mali, which the jihadists briefly captured in late 2012, prompting a French military intervention that has become increasingly unpopular as the violence has spread across the country and into neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso.

Monday’s expulsion was the result of a “collision course on both sides”, a Western diplomat in Bamako said. The junta and Paris have traded increasingly hostile barbs since French President Emmanuel Macron announced last June that France would halve its 5,000-troop presence in the region.

Soon after, reports emerged that the junta was in talks to hire the Wagner Group, amid increasingly warm relations with the Russian government, and hundreds of its mercenaries are now in the country. Wagner’s mercenaries have been accused by the UN of gross human rights violations and possible war crimes in Libya and the Central African Republic.

Mali last week ordered the withdrawal of around 100 Danish troops who had arrived to join a European special forces mission led by France, drawing criticism from the 15 countries contributing to the effort.

The August coup in Mali was the first in a series of putsches across West and Central Africa as soldiers seized power in Chad, Guinea and, last week, in Burkina Faso. On Monday, the African Union voted to suspend Burkina Faso’s participation in “all AU activities until the effective restoration of constitutional order in the country”.

Additional report by Victor Mallet in Paris

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