Mali accuses France of arming Islamist fighters in letter to UN

Mali’s Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Abdoulaye Diop attends a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (not pictured), in Moscow, Russia May 20, 2022. Yuri Kadobnov/Pool via REUTERS

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BAMAKO, Aug 17 (Reuters) – Mali says France violated its airspace and delivered weapons to Islamist militants in a bid to destabilize the West African country, the latest in a series of accusations that marked the bitter end to their once close relationship.

In a letter to the head of the United Nations Security Council dated Monday, Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said his airspace had been violated more than 50 times this year, mostly by French forces using drones, military helicopters and fighter jets.

“These flagrant violations of Malian airspace were used by France to gather information on terrorist groups operating in the Sahel and to drop arms and ammunition on them,” the letter said.

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Mali has provided no evidence showing that France has supplied arms to Islamist groups. France has spent a decade and billions of dollars rooting out Islamist militants, some with ties to al-Qaeda and Islamic State, in its former colony.

“France has obviously never supported, directly or indirectly, these terrorist groups, which remain its designated enemies across the planet,” the French Embassy in Mali said in a Twitter thread.

He said 53 French soldiers had died during his nine-year mission in Mali and that France had killed hundreds of Islamist fighters to improve security for Malians. France has also suffered Islamist attacks at home, he added.

The accusations mark a new low in relations as France withdraws its last troops from Mali and Russian mercenaries hired by Mali’s military government extend their reach. The exchange worries the Western powers who see their influence dwindling in the Sahel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the possibility of delivering food, fertilizer and fuel to Mali during a call with the country’s interim president last week. Read more

German UN soldiers said they saw Russian forces landing at the airport and unloading equipment in the northern town of Gao on Monday, the day the last French soldiers left. Read more

French forces were greeted as heroes in Mali in 2013 when they pushed back Islamist groups that had taken the north, including the fabled city of Timbuktu.

But a series of setbacks and protracted attacks by militants have soured relations, which have soured since a military junta toppled the government in 2020 and later toppled an interim civilian cabinet.

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Reporting by Fadima Kontao; Written by Anait Miridzhanian and Nellie Peyton; Editing by Edward McAllister, Hugh Lawson and Diane Craft

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