In a letter to the UN, Mali has insinuated that France has violated its airspace and delivered arms to Islamist militants in an attempt to destabilise the West African country. The accusation is the latest in a barrage that have marked a bitter end to their once close relations.
In a letter to the head of the United Nations Security Council dated Monday, Mali’s foreign affairs minister, Abdoulaye Diop, said its airspace has been breached more than 50 times this year, mostly by French forces using drones, military helicopters and fighter jets.
“These flagrant violations of Malian airspace were used by France to collect information for terrorist groups operating in the Sahel and to drop arms and ammunition to them,” the letter said.
Mali could not provide evidence to show that France had supplied arms to Islamist groups. France has spent a decade and billions of dollars to stamp out Islamist militants, some with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State, in its former colony, according to news agency Reuters.
“France has obviously never supported, directly or indirectly, these terrorist groups, which remain its designated enemies across the planet,” said the French Embassy in Mali, in a Twitter thread.
The Embassy said that 53 French soldiers had been killed during its nine-year mission in Mali and that France had eliminated hundreds of Islamist fighters in order to provide security for Malians. France has also suffered Islamist attacks at home, it added.
The accusations mean relations between the two nations have hit a new low just as France is pulling its troops out of Mali. Mali has instead turned to Russian mercenaries to help stamp out Islamist movements. This swapping of French for Russian troops, has worried the west, which sees its influence waning in the Sahel region.
French forces were treated as heroes in Mali in 2013 after they beat back Islamist terror groups that had taken control of the north, including the fabled city of Timbuktu – also called the African El Dorado.