Mali’s unilateral decision to cut defense ties with France is “unjustified,” the French Foreign Ministry declared Tuesday.
The ruling military government informed the French government Monday of its decision to break off from a defense cooperation treaty as well as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and from partner countries involving European forces in the internationally aligned Takuba Task Force, a statement from the ministry said.
The brief statement mentioned that France “considers this decision unjustified and formally contests any violation of the bilateral legal framework that would be attributable to the Barkhane force.”
While Mali’s transitional authorities said the decision is effective immediately, the ministry denied that France is accelerating the withdrawal of its troops, saying it will continue the disengagement in accordance with its previous announcement in line with the commitments made “to its partners and with a concern for coordination and respectful dialogue with the Malian armed forces.”
France is determined to ensure the safety of its soldiers and the European soldiers, the statement noted.
The formal breaking of the defense agreements is a huge blow for Paris, which has engaged over 5,000 French troops in Mali and Sahel region countries to fight extremist jihadist groups since 2014. The ruling junta has accused French troops of “flagrant violations” of its national sovereignty.
The latest sign of discord and deteriorating ties between the two countries comes amid a heated escalation over reports of a “mass grave” at a formerly held French military base at Gossi that was handed over to the Malian armed forces on April 19. According to Bamako, the bodies in the mass grave existed before the French handover.
France has denied the allegations and laid the blame on "Caucasians” suspected of belonging to the Russia-backed Wagner Group, which has been engaged recently by the Malian military government for security operations. Mali’s decision to involve the private military contractor while demanding European military forces withdraw from the country has raised serious concern for European countries.
French President Emmanuel Macron previously announced the pulling of his country’s troops, the closing of military bases and ending operation Barkhane amid growing local opposition and political mistrust following last year’s coup in Mali.