France warns Mali against Russian mercenary deal

The French defence minister, Florence Parly, has warned Mali against entering into a deal with a Russian security firm.

There have been reports that Mali’s military rulers are close to hiring mercenaries from the Wagner group.

Ms Parly described the potential deal as “extremely worrying” – saying it would undermine efforts by France to counter the jihadist threat in the region.

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Wagner is believed to be operating in several African countries, as Russia seeks to increase its influence.

Its employees are fighting rebels in the Central African Republic where Russian companies have secured mining concessions.

Reuters reports that Mali’s military junta has increased contacts with Russia as relations with France have worsened. Mali’s Defence Minister Sadio Camara visited Moscow and oversaw tank exercises on Sept. 4.

A senior Malian defence ministry source said the visit was in “the framework of cooperation and military assistance” and gave no further details.

Russia’s defence ministry said deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin had met Camara during an international military forum and “discussed defence cooperation projects in detail as well as regional security matters related to West Africa.” No further details were released.

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