The French foreign minister on Tuesday criticized plans to bring Russian mercenaries to Mali, saying such a decision was “incompatible” with the French military presence in his former colony. Diplomatic and security sources told Reuters that an agreement was underway between Russian private military contractor the Wagner Group and the ruling junta in Mali for the mercenaries to train the Malian army and provide protection for senior officials.
Asked by lawmakers about the report, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: “Wagner is a militia that has been exposed in the past in Syria and the Central African Republic to have committed atrocities and all kinds of violations. which do not correspond to any solution and it is therefore incompatible with our presence. “” I say this to make it understood, “he said.
Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said in a separate hearing that she was “extremely concerned” about such a deal. The sources told Reuters that Paris has started a diplomatic campaign to prevent the junta – which seized power in a coup in May – from enacting the deal. Paris would consider withdrawing from Mali if the deal goes through, they said.
France fears the arrival of Russian mercenaries could jeopardize its ten-year-old counterterrorism operation against al-Qaeda and Islamic State-linked insurgents in the Sahel region of West Africa as it begins to scale back its 5,000-man mission to reshape it with more European allies, diplomatic sources said. President Emmanuel Macron announced these plans in July. France has hailed some successes against militants in recent months but the situation is extremely fragile, made worse by the unrest in Mali following the coup.
A European source who tracks West Africa and a security source in the region said at least 1,000 mercenaries could be involved in the Wagner Group deal. Two other sources believed the number was lower but did not provide figures. Four sources said the Wagner Group would be paid around 6 billion CFA francs ($ 11 million) per month for its services. Reuters was unable to reach the Wagner Group for comment
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