French minister in Mali to pressure junta over Russian mercenaries

France's Armed Forces Minister arrived in Niger on Sunday as part of a two-day visit to allies in the Sahel region, where French-led military operations against Islamist militants are under threat from Mali's talks with Russian defense contractors.

Military Junta, Florence Parly

9/19/2021 11:35:00 PM

France 's Armed Forces Minister arrived in Niger on Sunday as part of a two-day visit to allies in the Sahel region, where French-led military operations against Islamist militants are under threat from Mali 's talks with Russian defense contractors.

BAMAKO (Reuters) - France 's Armed Forces Minister arrived in Mali on Sunday to pressure the military junta to end talks to bring Russian mercenaries into the country and push it to keep a promise to return the country to constitutional order in February. Diplomatic and security sources have told Reuters that Mali 's year-old military junta is close to recruiting the Russian Wagner Group , and France has launched a diplomatic drive to thwart it, saying such an arrangement is 'incompatible' with a continued French presence. But Mali 's junta which seized power in August 2020, has dug in, noting that France has begun scaling down its decade-old operation against insurgents linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State across the region to include more European countries.

French politicianBAMAKO (Reuters) -France's Armed Forces Minister arrived in Mali on Sunday to pressure the military junta to end talks to bring Russian mercenaries into the country and push it to keep a promise to return the country to constitutional order in February.

Diplomatic and security sources have told Reuters that Mali's year-old military junta is close to recruiting the Russian Wagner Group, and France has launched a diplomatic drive to thwart it, saying such an arrangement is "incompatible" with a continued French presence.

West Africa's main political bloc, ECOWAS, as well as other allies combating militants in the Sahel region, have also expressed concerns over the potential deal.But Mali's junta which seized power in August 2020, has dug in, noting that France has begun scaling down its decade-old operation against insurgents linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State across the region to include more European countries. headtopics.com

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On Sunday, Mali's foreign ministry called objections from neighbour Niger to the prospect of a deal with Wagner "unacceptable, unfriendly and condescending".The visit by Florence Parly to Mali is the highest-level trip by French officials since the talks with Wagner emerged.

An official from the French Armed Forces Ministry told reporters ahead of the visit that Parly would stress "the heavy consequences if this decision were to be taken by the Malian authorities."She would also underscore the importance of keeping to the calendar for the transition to democracy leading to elections in February 2022, the official said.

French officials describe the relationship with the junta as "complicated", although it still relies on Paris for counter-terrorism operations.Paris said on Thursday it had killed the leader of Islamic State in Western Sahara in northern Mali.

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Parly earlier on Sunday was in Niger to lay out plans to reshape its operations in the region.The French army started redeploying troops from its bases in Kidal, Tessalit and Timbuktu in northern Mali at the start of the month, French army sources have said. headtopics.com

Story continuesFrance wants to complete the redeployment by January. It is reducing its contingent to 2,500-3,000 from about 5,000, moving more assets to Niger, and encouraging other European special forces to work alongside local forces.The European force in the Sahel so far comprises about 600 troops from nine countries.

(Reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Bate Felix, Kevin Liffey and Daniel Wallis)Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting

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8h ago'Quad' countries to agree on secure microchip supply chains-mediaLeaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia will agree to take steps to build secure semiconductor supply chains when they meet in Washington next week, the Nikkei business daily said on Saturday, citing a draft of the joint statement. U.S. President Joe Biden will host a first in-person summit of leaders of the "Quad" countries, which have sought to boost co-operation to push back against China's growing assertiveness. The draft says that in order to create robust supply chains, the four countries will ascertain their semiconductor supply capacities and identify vulnerability, the Nikkei said, without unveiling how it had obtained the document. headtopics.com

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Mali says it can seek military help from anyone, despite French concern Mali has the right to seek military support from whoever it wants, the prime minister said, after France and other foreign powers expressed alarm at a report that Bamako was approaching Russian mercenaries for assistance.

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