Mali’s military leaders have expelled the French ambassador to the country over what they called “outrageous” comments made by the French foreign minister about the transitional government.
Relations between France and Mali, a landlocked country in West Africa which is one of the world’s poorest nations, have deteriorated since the army seized power in August 2020.
Tensions increased further this month when the military junta reversed an agreement to arrange elections in February and vowed to hold power until 2025.
Tensions continue to mount in recent weeks as Mali’s interim president, Col Assimi Goïta, solidified his control and showed reluctance to uphold international agreements.
The French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said last week that Mali’s leadership was “illegitimate and takes irresponsible measures”.
The Malian government summoned the French ambassador, Joël Meyer, on Monday, January 31 and said he had 72 hours to leave the country, according to a Malian government statement announced on state television.
“This measure follows the hostile and outrageous comments made recently by the French minister of Europe and foreign affairs and the recurrence of such comments by the French authorities with regard to the Malian authorities, despite repeated protests,” the statement said.
The statement did not specify which comments it was referring to.
This latest episode in the diplomatic crisis between Mali and its foreign partners comes days after the Malian government ordered Danish soldiers deployed in the French-led Takuba military operation to leave. The representative for the Economic Community of West African States was also expelled from the country earlier this month after sanctions were imposed on Mali.
French Defence Minister Florence Parly accused Mali’s rulers of stepping up “provocations” against his country.
Western powers are also concerned about Russia’s growing involvement in the former French colony.
Moscow reportedly sent military advisors in recent weeks to bolster local security forces in their fight with jihadist insurgents. Unconfirmed reports say hundreds of Russian mercenaries are also operating in the country.
France, which intervened in 2013 to support the government against the jihadists, plans to reduce its own troop deployment.
France stepped in in 2013 after Islamist militants overran parts of the north. With the help of France, Mali’s army has recaptured the territory, but militants are waging an increasingly bloody insurgency across the Sahel region.