Bamako (Reuters) – Mali’s ruling military junta on Friday asked France to withdraw troops from its territory “without delay”, calling into question Paris’ plan for a four- to six-month departure and highlighting the breakdown in relations between the two countries.
Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga, a junta spokesman, said France’s decision on Thursday to withdraw forces that have been fighting an Islamist insurgency was a unilateral move that violated military accords between Mali and France.
“In view of its repeated breaches of the defence agreements, the government invites French authorities to withdraw (French forces) without delay,” Maiga said, speaking on national television.
Maiga repeated the sentence three times, but did not give a deadline.
Announcing the French troop withdrawal on Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron said it would take four to six months.
In response to Maiga’s comments, Macron told reporters at an EU summit the withdrawal would be “implemented in an orderly manner so we can continue to ensure the security of MINUSMA (the U.N. peacekeeping force in Mali) and the security of our forces.”
The U.N. force is examining how its military operations will be impacted by the departure of French troops, the force’s commander Kees Matthijssen said on Friday, stressing a commitment to continue supporting Mali.
Relations between Paris and its former colony have deteriorated in recent weeks after the junta went back on an agreement to organise an election in February and proposed holding power until 2025.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday that Mali’s capacity to fight against Islamist groups on its territory was now Mali’s problem as French and allied forces will move to neighbouring countries to help reinforce national armies.
Mali has been the epicentre of a fight against militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State in the region. The departure of the foreign troops could complicate efforts to tackle the groups that have killed thousands and displaced over a million.
Neighbouring Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum said separately on Twitter that his nation had accepted that French and European special forces move across the border from Mali to combat jihadists and try to secure the border area.
West African coastal nations have seen increased attacks from the militants in recent weeks and are also expected to host some foreign troops if needed.