The EU will halt military training missions in Mali but will keep a presence in the Sahel, foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Monday, citing concerns over “interference” and civilian killings committed by Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was headed to the country for talks this week with the ruling junta.
“We are halting the training missions for the [Malian] armed forces and national guard,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told a media conference, but added: “The Sahel remains a priority. We’re not giving up on the Sahel, far from it. We want to commit even more to that region.”
He spoke after chairing a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers that discussed the region.
Borrell said it was decided that developments in Mali “have forced us to see there were not sufficient guarantees … on non-interference by the Wagner group,” a Russian private military organisation that France and other countries say is operating in Mali as an armed force.
Russia says it has only supplied what it officially describes as military instructors to Mali.
Borrell said the “notorious Wagner group … is responsible for some very serious events which have led to tens of people being killed in Mali in recent times”.
France last week expressed concern over reports that Malian soldiers and Wagner mercenaries killed more than 200 civilians in an operation last month in the Malian village of Moura.
Human Rights Watch has said Malian soldiers and foreign fighters executed 300 civilians between March 27 and 31 in Moura.
German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht visited German troops stationed in Mali at the weekend and spoke of “atrocities” in Moura.
Borrell called the incident a “massacre” and said: “We cannot collaborate with reprehensible events … We cannot be training people who are responsible for those kinds of behaviours. So the military training for troops, we’re going to stop.”
He said the EU ministers discussed hopes that west Africa’s regional bloc ECOWAS would reach an agreement with Mali’s junta for “an acceptable election” to be held for a return to civilian rule.
Paris announced in February the withdrawal of its troops from Mali, a former colony, after a breakdown in relations with the country’s ruling junta that seized power last year and the expulsion of the French ambassador.
France’s January 2013 deployment to fight the Islamic extremists who had seized much of northern Mali was a mission independent from EU operations in the country.
German foreign minister to meet junta
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will hold talks with the junta in Mali this week amid uncertainty over the future of German troops there, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday.
She will then continue to Niger for talks with President Mohamed Bazoum and Foreign Minister Ibrahim Yacoubou, returning to Germany on Saturday.
Baerbock’s aim is to “get a precise picture of the political and security situation on the ground” as Germany weighs its ongoing participation in military missions in Mali, the spokesman said.
“The Bamako government has lost the confidence of the international community in recent months, notably by holding back democratic transition and by intensifying military cooperation with Moscow,” Baerbock said in a statement before her departure.
Germany has around 1,100 soldiers deployed as part of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA.
Berlin has also contributed some 300 troops to the EU military training mission in Mali.