Sunday, 24 October, 2021
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Macron calls Mali's anti-French rhetoric 'a disgrace'

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron has lashed out at Mali's Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga, calling his claim that Paris abandoned Bamako by deciding to cut back it counter-terrorism operations in the country "a disgrace."

Tensions between France and Mali have risen since it emerged that the former French colony, where France intervened militarily in 2013 to help defeat a jihadist insurgency, is in talks with Russian mercenaries about taking over part of the anti-terrorism fight.

Last week, the tensions were laid bare at the UN General Assembly, when Maiga, the leader of Mali's military-dominated government, accused France of a "sort of abandonment in full flight" over its decision to cut its Barkhane force in the Sahel region of West Africa by around half by 2023.

Maiga also claimed France's decision was "unilateral."

France has vehemently rejected the accusations, saying that the overhaul of its operations in West Africa does not mean it is abandoning Mali to its fate and that it had consulted with Mali and its neighbours about the move before announcing it.

Speaking to Radio France Internationale on Thursday evening, Macron said he was "shocked" by Maiga's broadside.

"These remarks are unacceptable," he said after a dinner to close Africa 2020, a year-long series of events celebrating French-African ties.

"It's a disgrace and it dishonours a government that is not even really one," he added, a reference to the coup led by the army colonel Assimi Goita in May, when Maiga, a veteran civilian politician, was appointed premier.

Macron added that the remarks were all the more "inadmissible" for being made just as France was mourning the loss of its 52nd service member killed in combat in the Sahel since 2013, Maxime Blasco.

"I know that Malians do not think that," Macron said, referring to Maiga's "abandonment" claim.

"We are there because the Malian state asked us to. Without France, Mali would be in the hands of terrorists," he said, referring to the intervention launched by his predecessor Francois Hollande in 2013, at Bamako's request, to retake northern Mali from Qaeda-affiliated jihadists.

He repeated France's call for the transitional government in Mali, in charge since the coup of August 2020 that brought Goita to power, to organise elections as promised in February and to "stop imprisoning political opponents."

Macron's comments came as Mali is reportedly close to hiring 1,000 Wagner paramilitaries from Russia.

Maiga told the UN that France's planned troop drawdown justified Bamako "seeking other partners."