Paris hosts summit on Mali, considers withdrawal of troops

PARIS “France is hosting a summit on Wednesday to fight Islamic extremists in West Africa, as Paris is considering withdrawing troops from Mali while continuing military operations in the wider Sahel region,” the French presidency said.

The move comes amid rising tensions between Mali, its African neighbors and European partners.

This month, the European Union imposed sanctions on five high-ranking members of Mali’s transitional government, including Prime Minister Chogel Maigi, accusing them of obstructing and undermining the transition from military to civilian rule.

French President Emmanuel Macron will meet with African and European counterparts over a dinner at the Elysee Presidential Palace ahead of the EU-Africa summit scheduled for Thursday and Friday in Brussels. The meeting on Wednesday will discuss not only the potential exit of France, but also the participation of the UN peacekeeping force and the EU training mission.

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“We are now in a situation that requires pulling out the consequences of the political and operational split” from Mali, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told French lawmakers on Tuesday. Decisions need to be discussed collectively to “find another way forward,” he said.

The heads of state of Chad, Niger and Mauritania are expected to take part in the Paris summit. The leaders of the coup of Mali and Burkina Faso were not invited because both countries are excluded from the African Union, the French presidency said.

Mali has been fighting back the extremist uprising since 2012. The following year, the rebels were ousted from power in the northern cities by a French-led military operation, but they regrouped in the desert and began attacking the Malian army and its allies.

France now has about 4,300 troops in the Sahel region, including 2,400 in Mali. The so-called Barkhan forces are also involved in Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

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A spokesman for the French government, Gabriel Attal, said Wednesday’s meeting was a “new important step” towards the expected changes in France’s military operation in the region.

A spokesman for the French president said France was considering leaving Mali because of the “significant risk of interference” by its troops on the ground in Wagner’s group of Russian mercenaries, a situation he called “unacceptable”.

France and 15 European countries in December condemned the decision of the transitional authorities of Mali to allow the deployment of Wagner’s group, which has begun operations in the country and is accused of violating rights in the Central African Republic, Libya and Syria.

In recent weeks, Paris has held intensive consultations with its regional and European partners.

“Today, our partners are inclined to believe that the conditions for the success of our mission in Mali are no longer met, but we do not want to give an answer before making sure that the consensus is clear,” said the French official. The spokesman suggested that the withdrawal would also include a European-led military task force known as Takuba.

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At the same time, “other countries in the region want more support” and have expressed a desire to maintain a “European presence,” he said.

The danger in the region has worsened in recent years with attacks on United Nations civilians and peacekeepers. The EU has been training the Mali armed forces since 2013.

Many European countries involved in the training of Malian soldiers and the Tokuba Task Force, as well as the United States and Britain, will be represented, the French presidency said.

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