By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) –
They expressed concerns that the Russian forces would help the government battle Islamist militants linked to the al-Qaida and the Islamic State groups.
“We are aware of the involvement of the Russian Federation government in providing material support to the deployment of the Wagner group in Mali. [We] call on Russia to revert to responsible and constructive behavior in the region,” the countries said in a statement monitored by Worthy News.
Their statement comes amid concerns that Mali may become another battlefield in a broader Western standoff with Russia over Moscow’s alleged plans to invade Ukraine.
The Western allies stressed they deeply regretted the choice of Mali’s transitional authorities to use scarce public funds to pay Russian mercenaries.
Instead, the government of the African nation should support its armed forces and public services, the countries said.
France – Mali’s former colonial ruler – has recently pulled out of its last base in northern Mali, part of a wider draw own of its troops fighting Islamist militants in the Sahel region
Mali is the epicenter of an Islamic insurgency that began in the north of the country in 2012 and spread three years later to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso.
Thousands of people across the region have died, and around two million have been displaced, according to official figures.
The Christian minority of nearly half a million people in the Islamic country has been cross-fires, said sources familiar with the situation. “When Islamic extremist groups took control of the northern part of the country in 2012, churches were burned down, and Christians were forced to flee,” added advocacy group Open Doors.
“The displacement still affects Christians who lost their homes and whose churches were destroyed,” Open Doors added in a recent assessment. “Although some Christians and congregations have returned to the north under police protection, they still live under the threat of attack by Islamic militants.”
Attacks have been carried out by militants affiliated with al-Qaida or the Islamic State group, but many civilian casualties have also been caused by so-called self-defense forces, experts say.
Mali has so far made no public comments on the reported presence of the Wagner group to help fight Islamic extremists.
Moscow says it wants military cooperation with Mali to defend the state’s “territorial integrity” but denies links to the Russian military contractors in the country.
However, the apparent presence of Russian mercenaries was due adding to pressure on MINUSMA—the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali.
Troops of MINUSMA, deployed to the troubled Sahel state since 2013, were already targeted. The U.N.said the mission suffered the most fatalities of any of its peacekeeping operations globally, with hostile acts causing 146 deaths as of October 31, including this month.
With the Wagner group now in Mali, concerns remain about the future of the U.N. mission’s estimated 16,500 personnel, including 10,700 troops.
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