Mali’s Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga has told the Russian media he has evidence that France has been training “terrorist” groups operating in the West African country.
Maiga said French troops had created an enclave in Kidal, a town in the desert region of northern Mali, and handed it over to a “terrorist group” known as Ansar al-Din, allegedly linked to al-Qaeda. He said the Malian military was banned from entering the territory.
“Mali has no access to Kidal, this is an enclave controlled by France,” Russia Today reported citing Maiga’s interview to state-owned RIA Novosti on Friday.
“They have armed groups trained by French officers. We have evidence … We do not understand this situation and do not want to tolerate it.”
Maiga added that the groups “came from Libya”.
The statement comes days after Mali summoned France’s ambassador to the country to register its “indignation” at French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent criticism of the country’s government, which is dominated by army figures.
In June, France decided to scale back its Sahel deployment considerably following a military takeover in Mali in August 2020, which forced out the elected president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Colonel Assimi Goita, who led the August coup, installed a civilian-led interim government. But he then deposed the leaders of that government this May in a second coup.
Mali has accused France of abandoning the West African country over its decision to reduce its military deployment in the semi-arid Sahel region.
Tensions between France and its former colony Mali have grown since reports last month that the Sahel state was close to hiring 1,000 paramilitaries from Russian private security firm Wagner to help its fight against groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS).
The French government has stated that despite its planned troop withdrawal, it remains militarily committed to the fight against the armed uprising in the Sahel.
France intervened in Mali in 2013 after armed rebels seized control of the north the previous year. Since then, Paris has deployed thousands of troops across the Sahel region to combat the armed uprising.
Despite its military presence, violence has spread to central Mali and to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
In Mali, thousands of people have died and hundreds of thousands have been displaced, while swathes of the country have little or no state presence.