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How Mali’s military fell out with its French ally

French forces are pulling out of Mali after a breakdown in relations with the country’s military government.

A member of the Malian special forces stands guard during the ceremony that celebrates the national army day
A member of the Malian special forces stands guard during celebration for national army day in January 2022 [File Florent Vergnes/AFP] Published On 5 May 2022
5 May 2022
For nine years, France was Mali’s staunchest ally in its fight against rebel fighters who have killed thousands of people and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Now, French forces are pulling out after a breakdown with the country’s military government which this week renounced Mali’s core military agreements with France.

France began its military operations in the Sahel in 2013, helping Mali, its former colony, to stamp out a revolt in the north. But the rebels regrouped to attack the volatile centre of the country, initiating a full-throated rebellion that elected president Ibrahim Bubacar Keita was unable to brake.

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In August 2020, protests against Keita culminated in a coup by disgruntled colonels in the Malian army – a move that was followed by a second military takeover in May 2021.

From that point, relations with France went steadily downhill, propelled by the military’s resistance to setting an early date to restore civilian rule and by Bamako’s allegations that France was inciting regional neighbours to take a hard line against its military rule.

The disagreement accelerated in 2021 as Mali’s military wove closer ties with Moscow, bringing in “military instructors” that France and its allies condemned as mercenaries hired from the pro-Kremlin Wagner group.

In January this year, the French ambassador to Bamako was expelled and the following month, France announced the pullout of its troops from Mali, and those of the French-led Takuba force.

Mali ditches accords
In the latest twist, the Malian government on Monday formally renounced three agreements that provide the legal foundation for French and French-led military activities in Mali.

Mali accused France of acting unilaterally and of being deaf to its requests to amend the accords – the result of which, it says, is “blatant violation”

There has also been another episode that has inflamed the situation.

Last month, the French army shared a drone video that it said showed Russian mercenaries burying bodies near a base at Gossi, a day after the French military handed the facility back to Mali. The point of the bodies, France said, was to falsely accuse departing French troops of war crimes.

Mali reacted furiously, accusing the French army of “spying” and “subversion”.

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