PARIS: France is to press the European Union to agree sanctions against Mali after its military-dominated leadership shelved a timetable for elections, the French foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Jean-Yves Le Drian told AFP in an interview that Mali risked being “suffocated” unless the military junta of the West African country lived up to its responsibilities and stopped seeking to “fool” the country’s partners.
Le Drian, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said that the EU measures would be in line with the unprecedented sanctions agreed with West African economic bloc ECOWAS which Paris has strongly supported.
“We are going to propose to apply these sanctions at a European level, both those against Malian leaders but also the economic and financial measures,” Le Drian said.
He added that the issue would be discussed by EU foreign ministers at a meeting in the French city of Brest from Thursday, adding that Mali was now a “European issue.”
France is moving to draw down forces deployed in Mali and the region to fight an extremist insurgency in favor of a multinational force called Takuba including troops from EU states.
As well as closing borders and imposing a trade embargo, Mali’s regional neighbors also cut off financial aid and froze the country’s assets at the Central Bank of West African States.
The move followed a proposal by Mali’s interim government last month to stay in power for up to five years before staging elections, despite international demands that it respect a promise to hold elections in February.
“The junta is trying to fool all of its partners,” said Le Drian, noting how Bamako had called for help from Russian Wagner mercenaries as well as the “unacceptable” slipping of the election schedule.
“It is now up to the junta to take responsibility. Otherwise it runs the risk of seeing this country being suffocated.”
With France already seeking to tighten the vice on the military rulers, flag-carrier Air France said Wednesday that in line with official decisions it was suspending flights to and from Mali until further notice.
Mali’s relations with its neighbors and partners have steadily deteriorated since a coup led by Col. Assimi Goita in August 2020 against the country’s elected president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Under threat of sanctions, Goita had promised to hold presidential and legislative elections and to restore civilian rule by February 2022.
But he staged a de-facto second coup in May 2021, forcing out an interim civilian government and disrupting the timetable to restore democracy, while declaring himself interim president.
President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday the “unprecedented sanctions” by ECOWAS were a sign of “deep condemnation of the behavior of the military junta” in Mali and its “absolute failure” to respect its commitments.