Mali ‘ruling nothing out’ amid strained France relations

Question of French troops leaving country ‘is not on the table for the moment’, Malian foreign minister says.

Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop is seen speaking
Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop says Paris needs to act less aggressively and respect Mali [File: Yuri Kochetkov/AFP]

Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop has said the country’s military-dominated government was “ruling nothing out” regarding its relations with France, amid fraught tensions between the two countries.

Speaking to French broadcaster RFI on Friday, he said that the question of French troops leaving the conflict-torn country “is not on the table for the moment”.

Former colonial power France has thousands of troops deployed in Mali. The Sahel state has been struggling to contain a rebellion that first emerged in 2012, before spreading to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Diop’s intervention came after French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told media earlier on Friday that “things cannot stay the way they are” between the French government and Mali’s ruling military leaders.

Relations between the two countries have deteriorated sharply since Mali’s army staged a coup in August 2020.

Earlier this month, the West Africa bloc ECOWAS imposed a trade embargo and shut borders with Mali, in a decision backed by France, the United States and the European Union.

The move followed a proposal by Mali’s military to stay in power for up to five years before staging elections – despite international demands that it respect a promise to hold the vote in February.

Diop, referring to Le Drian’s statements, said that engaging with Mali should not be done via the media.

“Mali is ruling nothing out,” Diop told RFI, referring to the country’s relationship with France.

“The threats, the invective, the insults must stop to give way to a realistic engagement,” he added.

“If a presence at a given moment is judged to be contrary to the interests of Mali, we will not hesitate to assume our responsibilities,” Diop said, adding that “we are not at that point”.

Two-week deadline

Meanwhile, European allies agreed on Friday to draw up plans within two weeks for how to continue their fight against armed groups in Mali, Denmark’s defence minister said.

Mali has also deployed Russian private military contractors, which some European countries have said is incompatible with their mission.

“There was a clear perception that this is not about Denmark, it’s about a Malian military junta which wants to stay in power. They have no interest in a democratic election, which is what we have demanded,” Defence Minister Trine Bramse told the news agency Reuters.

She was speaking after a virtual meeting between the 15 countries involved in the European special forces Takuba task mission. She said the parties had agreed to come up with a plan within 14 days to decide on what the “future counterterrorism mission should look like in the Sahel region”.

The ministers held crisis talks after the military rulers insisted on the immediate withdrawal of Danish forces despite the 15 nations rejecting its claims that Copenhagen’s presence was illegal.

“European, French and international forces are seeing measures that are restricting them. Given the situation, given the rupture in the political and military frameworks, we cannot continue like this,” Le Drian told RTL radio, adding that the military was out of control.

He said the Europeans needed to think about how to adapt their operations.

Speaking to France 24 TV, Diop said Le Drian’s comments were “full of contempt” and Paris needed to act less aggressively and respect Mali.

“France’s attitude needs to change … we are reviewing several defence accords and treaties to ensure they don’t violate Mali’s sovereignty. If that’s not the case we will not hesitate to ask for adjustments.”

He said that Paris welcomed military coups “when they served its interests”, referring to a coup in neighbouring Chad that has drawn little resistance from France.

The military leaders’ handling of Denmark is likely to affect future deployments, with Norway, Hungary, Portugal, Romania and Lithuania due to send troops this year.

It raises questions about the broader future of French operations in Mali, where there are some 4,000 troops. Paris had staked a great deal on bringing European states to the region.

Source: News Agencies