Mali has accused France of violating its airspace and delivering weapons to armed groups, the latest in a barrage of accusations that have strained the relationship between the West African country and the former colonial power.
In a letter addressed to the head of the United Nations Security Council, Mali’s foreign affairs minister, Abdoulaye Diop, said its airspace has been breached more than 50 times this year, mostly by French forces using drones, military helicopters, and fighter jets.
“The government of Mali has several pieces of evidence that these flagrant violations of Malian airspace were used by France to collect intelligence for the benefit of terrorist groups operating in the Sahel and to drop arms and ammunitions to them,” the letter reads.
The French embassy in Mali denied the accusations in a series of tweets Wednesday, saying that France “intervened in Mali between 2013 and 2022 to fight against terrorist groups, at the request of Malian authorities” and has never “supported, directly or indirectly, these terrorist groups.
“We condemn the increasing manipulation of information, which must not distract any attention at all from the worsening security and humanitarian situation” in Mali, a foreign ministry spokesman said.
It said that 53 French soldiers had died during its nine-year mission in Mali and that France had killed hundreds of members of armed groups in order to improve security for Malians.
France’s armed forces completed their withdrawal from Mali six months after French President Emmanuel Macron announced his plan to pull out of the country following tensions with the ruling junta.
Tensions have also grown over the past year between Mali, its African neighbours and the European Union as concerns that Mali is working with Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company with links to the Kremlin grow.
Mali received several military aircraft from Russia this month in a ceremony at Bamako’s airport, the most recent of multiple shipments of equipment and weapons from Mali’s new ally in the ongoing fight against Islamists.
The last contingent of French soldiers of the so-called Barkhane force present on Malian territory crossed into neighbouring Niger on Monday afternoon, the French military said. They were based in Gao in northern Mali, a region plagued with jihadist violence.
Niger’s president, Mohamed Bazoum, said that the country’s borders would likely be more vulnerable to jihadist militant activity following the withdrawal of French forces and their allies from Mali.
The French first intervened in Mali in 2013 after northern Mali was taken over by Islamist militants in 2012. French forces initially received a warm welcome in the country, but public opinion has turned against them in recent years, with massive protests around the country calling for their departure.
In August 2020, a coup led by Col. Assimi Goita grabbed power in Mali. Goita carried out a second coup by dismissing the civilian leaders in Mali’s transitional government and putting himself in charge last year.
In mid-May the regime announced that Mali was quitting the G5 Sahel bloc, created in 2014 to coordinate a joint effort by Sahelian armies in fighting jihadist groups.
The Bamako regime has imposed ever-tighter restrictions on the operations of the UN peacekeeping force known by its acronym Minusma, denying its investigators local access to investigate reported crimes, such as the army and Wagner’s alleged killing of around 300 people in the village of Moura in late March.