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Turning up the heat on the junta

Paris and Brussels are sanctioning Bamako's colonels and restructuring their anti–jihadist defence mission in the Sahel

The European Union's chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, announced sanctions on Mali's military leaders in line with measures already taken by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), following a meeting of EU defence ministers in the French port of Brest on 13 January.

'The risk that the situation in this country deteriorates is evident,' Borrell told reporters. He added that there was 'no sign of progress from the [Malian] authorities' and that the EU would not stay 'at any cost'.

Ecowas agreed on a raft of restrictions against Mali on 9 January over the junta's failure to hold democratic elections in February as had previously been agreed (AC Dispatches, 12/1/22, Bamako junta gets more isolated as West African leaders cut off financial ties).

The decision by junta leader Colonel Assimi Göita and Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop to deploy fighters from the Wagner Group also threatens Opération Barkhane, the French–led anti-jihadist mission in the Sahel region, and its planned successor, the multinational force Operation Takuba, including troops from several European countries.

In December, the EU imposed sanctions on the Wagner Group and eight of its senior commanders after it was found to have taken command of Central African Republic forces which had earlier been trained by EU personnel (AC Dispatches 17/12/21, US and Brussels sanctions on Moscow's mercenaries will be tested in Africa).

The EU also announced that it would conduct a root-and-branch review of its security and defence missions in Africa to ensure that its officials had no contact with the Wagner Group.

'CAR and Mali are two sides of the same problem, which illustrates in all its dimensions the consequences of the presence of this mercenary group in a country,' said Florence Parly, France's Armed Forces minister.

The latest draft of the EU's foreign policy blueprint, clunkily named 'Strategic Compass', states that 'the future of Africa is of strategic importance to the EU' and promises a greater EU security presence on the continent.

'As a reliable security provider, the EU will enhance its efforts to support African-led initiatives that contribute to peace and security on the African continent,' the paper states.

However, the presence of the Wagner Group in many of the same theatres where the EU plans to deploy could create friction. 

The document also warns that in the Sahel and Central Africa 'instability, terrorist groups, weak state structures, mercenaries and widespread poverty constitute a dangerous mix and call for sustained EU engagement.'

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