US slaps sanctions on three Mali junta figures over Wagner links
The United States has slapped sanctions on three leading members of Mali’s military-led transition government for their alleged involvement with the Russian mercenary group – Wagner.
The officials: Defence Minister Sadio Camara, an influential member of the junta and right-hand man of its leader and President Assimi Goita; Air Force Chief of Staff Alou Boi Diarra; and Deputy Chief of Staff Adama Bagayoko, are accused of having worked closely with the Wagner Group to facilitate and expand its presence in Mali.
The US Department of the Treasury said the men materially assisted, sponsored or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of the group, which is a US-designated entity.
The move is the strongest signal yet by the West on the Mali junta which has severed ties with its former main Western ally France over the fight against insurgents in the south and north of the country.
Read:Mali terminates military agreements with France
Mali has been engulfed in the unrest since 2012, leading to four coups.
Previous government’s handling of the crisis led to the overthrow of four heads of state in the last 10 years.
The current military regime resulted from the latest two coups starting in 2020, which the military blamed on the incompetence of the government.
France, which was Mali’s biggest supporter against the insurgents, fell out with the military following the 2020 coup,
The ensuing disagreement led to the expulsion of the French peacekeeping forces and their allies.
In their place, the Russians were brought in.
Read:Inside the Russian mercenary machine in Africa
But the US and its Western allies, who have been strongly opposed to the deployment of the Russians, said the Wagner Group is known for committing atrocities wherever they go.
The Wagner are involved in many conflicts in other troubled regions of Africa and the Middle East, where they have been found to antagonise western military interest.
The US government said their involvement in Mali has led to rise in death toll in that conflict.
“Civilian fatalities have surged by 278 percent since Wagner forces deployed to Mali in December 2021. Many of those deaths were the result of operations conducted by Malian Armed Forces alongside members of the Wagner Group,” the State Department said in a statement on Monday,
The Wagners have been named in several reports of atrocities committed in Mali since it deployed there. A notable incident is the event of March in the city of Moura, where an estimated 300 unarmed civilians were reportedly summarily executed.
Read:UN: Mali army, foreign forces killed 500 people
A UN report confirmed the incident and the involvement of the Wagner,
The US government said the move is a continuation of action against those who facilitate the Wagner Group’s “destabilising activities,” which posed threats to peace and security in Mali and the region.
“As the largest bilateral donor of development and humanitarian assistance to Mali, the United States supports the people of Mali in their aspirations for peace, prosperity, and democracy,” the statement added.
The Wagner’s involvement in Africa recently got complicated after the falling out of Russian President Vladimir Putting and the head of the private army, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Mali is scheduled to conduct elections in February next year, to hand over power to a civilian administration. But the process leading to this has been marred by complications sparked by the Jihadist conflict and the junta’s suspected intention to stay in power for a longer time.