France, Mali hold “sincere” talks on agreement with

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French Defense Minister Florence Parly held what she described as a “sincere discussion” on Monday with her Malian counterpart days after Paris warned the West African country against hiring the Russian private security company Wagner Group.

Parly arrived in Mali on Sunday after reports suggesting the country’s military government was close to concluding a deal for 1,000 mercenaries.

The minister, who said she traveled to the country to reiterate the government’s opposition to Wagner, reaffirmed France’s “steadfast support” in the fight against terrorism in Mali and the Sahel.

“For eight years, at the request of the Malian authorities, France has chosen to support Mali in the fight against armed terrorist groups. France has chosen to unite its partners around a common vision with and for Mali,” she told reporters after the meeting with Mali’s defense minister. Sadio Camara.

Note that their discussions were “sincere, direct and complete”, but Parly added that “we will not be able to live with mercenaries.”

On Sunday, Mali’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it “objected to each state making its choices.”

France sent troops to Mali in 2013 after riots broke out in the north of the country. But relations between the two countries deteriorated after a coup in August 2020 that overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

France suspended military cooperation with Mali in June, and French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he would close bases in northern Mali and reduce the presence of French troops in the Sahel region. The UN has 13,000 peacekeepers in the country.

Last week, Mali’s interim prime minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga indicated that talks between his government and Wagner were motivated by the French downturn.

“There are partners who have decided to leave Mali to retreat to other countries. There are areas that are being abandoned,” he said.

Mr Parly said France was supporting the regional group’s economic community in the efforts of West African states (ECOWAS) to succeed in the political transition process in Mali.

Colonel Assimi Goita, who overthrew the leaders of the Provisional Government in May in a second coup, has vowed to respect a February 2022 civil election deadline set by the previous interim government.

The growing influence of Russian paramilitary companies and advisers has been witnessed in the Central African Republic (CAR), to the horror of France. Germany has also warned the Russian mercenaries, saying their deployment would call into question its military commitments in Mali.

Wagner forces are also reportedly in Libya, Sudan and Mozambique. Mali has been fighting an uprising linked to al-Qaeda and Daesh since 2012, when riots broke out in the north.

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