Mali Expels UN Spokesman Adding To Growing Diplomatic Tensions

The UN's peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) on patrol (file photo).

Mali is expelling the spokesman of the UN's peacekeeping force in the country over social media posts concerning the presence of Ivorian troops. This comes amid mounting friction between Mali's ruling military and international partners supporting the country's fight against jihadists.

MINUSMA spokesman Olivier Salgado was given 72 hours to leave over "tendentious and unacceptable" posts he made concerning a controversy involving Ivorian troops, Mali's foreign ministry said in a statement received by AFP on Wednesday.

The issue over Salgado, a French national, relates to 49 troops from Ivory Coast who were detained after landing at Bamako airport on 10 July.

The authorities have accused the troops of being "mercenaries" with no mission orders or any authorisation to enter the country.

The foreign ministry accused Salgado of Twitter posts "declaring without any proof that the Malian authorities had been previously informed" of their arrival.

Ivory Coast says they were sent to provide a support role for MINUSMA, under a routine rotation.

Mandate renewed

Four days after the row flared over the Ivorian troops, Mali announced it was suspending rotations of MINUSMA personnel for "national security" reasons.

The suspension will last until a meeting is held to "facilitate the coordination and regulation" of the rotation of contingents, authorities. So far, no date has been set for any talks.

The UN secretary general's deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq, said the UN "deeply" regretted the Malian decision to expel Salgado.

"The doctrine of 'persona non grata' does not apply to United Nations personnel and is contrary to obligations under the Charter of the UN," he said, adding that they were following up the issue with the relevant authorities.

The UN Security Council renewed MINUSMA's mandate for one year on 29 June, although the junta has opposed requests to allow freedom of movement for rights investigators with the mission.

Instability

The incident takes place against a backdrop of problems in Mali, one of Africa's poorest and most unstable countries.

Thousands of people have died and hundreds of thousands have been displaced in a jihadist campaign that began in northern Mali in 2012 and spread to Niger and Burkina Faso three years later.

Colonels angry at the government's handling of the insurgency seized power in August 2020 and carried out another coup in May 2021.

Their takeover triggered a long standoff with the regional bloc ECOWAS over a timetable for restoring civilian rule.

The coup also led to a spat with France, Mali's former colonial ruler, which says the junta has hired Russian "mercenaries" to support it.

France's ambassador was expelled in January, at the same time that Denmark was told to withdraw a newly-arrived unit that was part of a fledgling European force.

France's anti-jihadist mission in the Sahel -- known as Barkhane -- is now pulling out of the country and relocating to neighbouring Niger. The operation is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.

'Preying' on Mali

The commander of this force, General Laurent Michon, on Thursday said France's withdrawal had nothing to do with "Wagner's arrival in Mali".

It was rather due to Bamako expressing its wish to "see us leave without delay", he said.

He accused Wagner of acting like a drug "dealer", "giving Mali a first dose for free: protection against the nasty French" and quick fixes, before looking out for its own interests.

"The mining code in Mali has changed and now... a certain number of measures have been taken to exploit three gold sites for Wagner," he alleged.

"In central Mali, they took 200 people prisoner, who were all executed soon afterwards," he said, criticising one such "rapid result by mercenaries".

"It's called preying, plain and simple."

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