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The European Union (EU) had been trying for months to find a solution to maintain a certain presence in Mali, despite the decision of the national authorities to call on the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, which arrived in the country at the end of December.
The Twenty-Seven finally decided to suspend the European training missions of the Malian army and national guard, while continuing the activities of advice and education. ” We stop “ to train soldiers, “but we stay” in Mali, summarized Monday April 11 Josep Borrell, head of European diplomacy, on the occasion of a Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Union.
Meeting in Luxembourg, they took note of this decision adopted last week by the ambassadors of the Twenty-Seven to the EU. A consensus that has struggled to emerge. Some countries, mainly France, wanted to interrupt the two missions which aim, for EUTM Mali, to rebuild the Malian armed forces and, for EUCAP Sahel Mali, to strengthen the internal security forces.
Others, such as Italy, Germany, Spain, Belgium or the Czech Republic, wanted to stay or preserve at least activities in the country, so as not to leave the field open to Russia. An issue that has become crucial at a time when Moscow is defying global geopolitical balances with the war launched in Ukraine.
Since April 2, Malian soldiers and Wagner’s mercenaries have been accused of carrying out a massacre in Moura, in the center of the country. According to Human Rights Watch, nearly 300 civilians, including some suspected jihadists, were executed there between March 27 and 31.
Multiplication of abuses
In this context, the training of Malian forces has become inconceivable for Europe. Some of these activities had been de facto suspended from the month of March by the mission commanders, pending a political decision from the Union. “We had to quickly avoid any risk” to see soldiers trained by Europeans committing “human rights violations”explains a diplomat.
The EU had asked the Malian authorities to undertake to avoid any cooperation between Wagner and the troops supervised by the European missions. In its response, the ruling junta in Bamako pleaded for them to be maintained, a sign perceived as positive in Brussels. But the guarantees offered were judged “insufficient”. Europe will, however, continue to teach Malian soldiers “the laws of war “. “The military must know that war has laws and rules of the game”Josep Borrell explained on Monday
The Europeans insist that this suspension of training activities is ” temporary “ and “reversible”. But “the observation on the evolution of the situation is quite pessimistic”, confides a diplomat, in view of the multiplication of abuses and the refusal of the Malian junta to organize the return to the polls.
Questions even hover over the United Nations mission in Mali, the Minusma, whose investigation in Moura is blocked by Bamako. “Are we going to let her go to the field to check what happened? Or will the Minusma remain locked up in its barracks? If that’s why it’s not worth staying there”, explained Mr. Borrell. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will travel to Mali this week to take stock, as Berlin plans to withdraw its soldiers from the country.
In any case, the EU wants to remain present in the Sahel, which is still plagued by jihadist threats, and to deploy more in neighboring countries. “But Burkina Faso has just suffered a coup and Niger is not overflowing with enthusiasm at the idea of a reinforced foreign presence”, notes a diplomat. For their part, the Europeans must redefine their strategy with regard to this key region, in the context of the withdrawal of the French force “Barkhane” and the European task force “Takuba”, experienced as a failure.