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Mali leader lashes out at France, U.N.

He condemns French military withdrawal, praises Russian mercenaries by KRISTA LARSON The Associated Press | September 25, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Acting Prime Minister of Mali Abdoulaye Maiga addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022 at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Mali's prime minister lashed out Saturday, saying the country had been "stabbed in the back" by the French military withdrawal, and praised the "exemplary and fruitful cooperation between Mali and Russia."

Prime Minister Abdoulaye Maiga was directly criticizing United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres by the fourth sentence of his speech to the General Assembly. He slammed what he called France's "unilateral decision" to relocate its remaining troops to neighboring Niger amid deteriorating relations with Mali's two-time coup leader, Col. Assimi Goita.

While it was Goita and his allies who overthrew a democratically elected president by military force two years ago, Mali's prime minister repeatedly referred to a "French junta" throughout his speech Saturday.

"Move on from the colonial past and hear ... the rejection that is coming up from the African cities and countryside, and understand that this movement is inexorable," Maiga said. "Your intimidations and subversive actions have only swelled the ranks of Africans concerned with preserving their dignity."

France intervened militarily in 2013, leading an effort to oust Islamic extremists from control of the northern Malian towns they had overtaken. Over the past nine years, France had continued its presence in a bid to stabilize the country amid repeated attacks by insurgents.

The French departure has raised new concerns about whether those militants will regain territory with security responsibilities now falling to the Malian military and U.N. peacekeepers.

Maiga insisted Saturday that "terrorist groups have been severely weakened" since the August 2020 coup d'etat even though militants over the summer attacked the country's largest military base, just 9 miles outside the capital, Bamako.

Maiga repeated unfounded claims that France colluded with Islamic extremists and spoke of nefarious elements with "hidden agendas."

The Malian prime minister offered a grim assessment of the U.N. peacekeeping mission known as MINUSMA, while openly praising the influence of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group who have been accused of carrying out human rights abuses.

"We must recognize that nearly 10 years after its establishment, the objectives for which MINUSMA was deployed in Mali have not been achieved," Maiga said. "This is despite numerous Security Council resolutions."

The Malian prime minister criticized Guterres' recent comments on the standoff between Mali and Ivory Coast over 46 detained Ivorian soldiers.

Maiga reiterated Saturday claims before the U.N. General Assembly that the soldiers were sent to Mali as mercenaries, which the Ivorian government has vigorously denied.

On Saturday, he said soldiers had arrived in Bamako with weapons, indicating on their paperwork that they were painters and masons. Instead, he said, they came "with the evil intention of destabilizing the country."

Three female Ivorian soldiers already have been released as a "humanitarian gesture," but there have been no updates about the others.

"I would like to express my deep disagreement with your recent media appearance, in which you took a position and expressed yourself on the case of the 46 Ivorian mercenaries," he said in comments aimed at Guterres.

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