EU freezes some Mali army training over mercenary concerns

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s top diplomat said Monday that he has ordered the suspension of combat training for soldiers in Mali until he receives guarantees from the government there that the trainees will not be working with Russian mercenaries.

Rebel Malian troops have launched two military coups in recent years. The junta has postponed elections meant to usher in civilian rule, and the EU is concerned that Mali’s leaders are working with mercenaries from the Wagner Group, which is accused of rights abuses in Africa and the Middle East.

The 27-nation bloc has been training the Mali armed forces since 2013. It had planned to continue to do so despite the severe instability and political upheaval that has wracked the country since 2012.

“Clearly, our training mission cannot be implicated, in any way, in activities that could call into question the European Union’s reputation,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters after chairing a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers.

Borrell said he’s still waiting for guarantees from Mali’s junta, and until then he has ordered the commander in charge of the EU training “to adapt the activities of the mission to the circumstances they are facing.”

“We should maintain training activities that are not directly related to training Malian troops in military combat,” Borrell said, but he added that the mission would not yet be cancelled.

France announced last month that it all its troops would leave Mali by the summer amid tensions with the military junta, but Paris said it would maintain a military presence in neighboring West African nations.

French President Emmanuel Macron has accused Mali’s authorities of neglecting the fight against Islamic extremists.

More than 107 civilians have been killed in recent months in Mali in attacks by the army and jihadist groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, Human Rights Watch said in a report last week.

Mali’s soldiers were responsible for at least 71 of the deaths recorded since December 2021, the international rights organization said. Mali’s army has contested some of the report, while adding that it is investigating a number of the attacks and allegations.

The army has been accused of abuses against civilians in southwest and central Mali as soldiers try to stem violence from jihadist fighters who have been staging attacks for nearly a decade.

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