Senior US diplomat warns Russian group against interfering in Mali
Dakar — US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Saturday warned a shadowy Russian company with ties to the Kremlin against interfering in efforts to restore democracy in the West African country of Mali.
Concluding a week-long tour of three countries in Africa dominated by crises across the continent, Blinken said it would be “a pity” for the Wagner Group to become active in Mali, where there are internationally backed plans to elect a democratically elected. The government is in place by April.
Mali “remains an essential pillar of future stability in the Sahel region and we have deep concerns about this stability and deep concerns about extremism and terrorism that are spreading their tentacles in the region,” Blinken said at a press conference with Senegal’s Foreign Minister, Isata Tal Sal. The Sahel region of West Africa is a vast region south of the Sahara desert where extremist groups are fighting for control.
“It would be especially unfortunate if third parties were involved in making things more difficult and complicated,” he said. Blinken said he was speaking in particular about the Wagner Group, which has deployed mercenaries in Syria, the Central African Republic and Libya, prompting protests from the West and others.
Western governments and United Nations experts have accused the Wagner Group, owned by a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, of human rights abuses in the Central African Republic and of involvement in the conflict in Libya.
France and Germany have objected to the presence of Wagner mercenaries in Mali, and the European Union said last week it would consider imposing sanctions on anyone interfering with Mali’s democratic transition.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the company had a “legitimate” right to be in Mali because it had received an invitation from the transitional government, and insisted that the Russian government not participate.
Blinken, who also lobbied while in Africa to end crises in Ethiopia and Sudan, said the United States was ready to restore aid to Mali that was suspended after a military coup.
“Ultimately, this relates to the people of Mali and their aspirations for peace, their aspirations for development and respect for human rights. We look forward to taking the next steps to resume the full range of assistance once the situation becomes democratic,” he said. The elected government has assumed its duties.”
Mali has struggled to contain a radical Islamist insurgency since 2012. Radical rebels were forced from power in northern Mali’s cities with the help of a French-led military operation, but they regrouped in the desert and began launching attacks on the Malian army and its allies.
In June, Colonel Asimi Gueta was sworn in as head of the transitional government after carrying out his second coup in nine months. Mali faces increasing international isolation due to the junta’s power grab. The elections are due in February, but the European Union fears it will be postponed.
In Dakar, Blinken has been pushing for infrastructure projects America has built, including an initiative to produce COVID-19 vaccines in Senegal, a first for Africa. It also promoted sustainable development, women’s empowerment, and other human rights initiatives to support faltering democracies.
In meetings with female entrepreneurs and CEOs from US-based multinational companies, Blinken extolled the benefits of enhancing the role of women in economies and buying American products. In a fatal blow to China, with which the United States competes for profitable business, he noted that America is investing “without burdening the country with debts it cannot afford.”
He said as he witnessed the signing of four road and traffic management deals and other deals between Senegal and US companies worth about $1 billion.
He said the investment demonstrated “our shared values of democracy, transparency and rule of law as well as innovation”.
In less than two weeks, Senegal will host the major China-Africa Trade and Investment Forum, underlining Beijing’s interest in expanding its influence on the continent. The competition between the United States and China in Africa was a major theme of Blinken’s trip, though he tried to downplay it.
“Our goal is not to make our partners choose, but to give them choices,” he said. “And when people have choices, they usually make the right choice.”
Tal Sall, the foreign minister who will play a key role in the forum, thanked Blinken for his comments.
“We have sovereign diplomacy in which we do not exclude anyone. There is not only one option. We have many options,” she said.
As in France and other French-speaking countries, Blinken has spoken widely in French at his public appearances, including with Senegalese President Macky Sall, and at an event at the Dakar Pasteur Institute, which he hopes to start producing COVID-19 vaccines with America . Help next year.
In his meetings, Blinken addressed security issues, particularly the rise in jihadist violence across the Sahel and the increase in authoritarianism that many believe is fueling extremism.
Senegal is a key partner in countering extremism, and last year hosted the US military’s annual Flintlock Counterterrorism Exercise.
One area in which Sall may seek US assistance is increased security along the country’s borders with Mali and Mauritania, where several counterterrorism operations have been carried out in recent years.
Associated Press writer Babakar Dion contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the European Union said last week, not last month, that it would consider imposing sanctions on anyone interfering with Mali’s democratization.
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