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28 Feb, 2020 07:25

Mali & France square off after French anti-terrorist troops accused of unruly behavior

Mali & France square off after French anti-terrorist troops accused of unruly behavior

A Malian envoy to France has accused French troops that form part of a counterterrorism force in the country of rowdy behavior in its capital city. Paris has dismissed the allegations as "not only false, but unacceptable."

The rebuff was issued by Defense Minister Florence Parly's office on Thursday. Branding remarks by Malian Ambassador Toumani Djime Diallo as "indecent," it argued that the French troops are risking their lives to protect the West African country from terrorism.

"Rather than channeling and spreading false accusations, we expect the ambassador of Mali to devote all his energy to… achieving success for everyone," the statement read, as cited by AFP.

The allegations concerning bad behavior by French troops – those attached to its fabled Foreign Legion in particular – were made by Diallo on Wednesday. Speaking during a public hearing alongside his colleagues from Niger, Mauritania, Chad and Burkina Faso, the diplomat claimed that some soldiers of the elite military force's parachutist regiment had gone wild, causing trouble in the country's capital, Bamako.

At times you see them in the red-light districts of Bamako, their bodies completely covered in tattoos, behaving in a way that does not correspond to the [French] army we know. It makes people afraid, it makes tongues wag.

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France maintains a large force in the Sahel region, the majority of which is stationed in Mali. The total number of troops currently stands at 5,100 after Paris decided to deploy 600 additional servicemen early in February. The French contingent is the backbone of Operation Barkhane – a multinational force designed to counter various jihadist groups active in the Sahel region. 

France intervened in Mali – its former colony – back in 2013 in a bid to push back a jihadist insurgency that was active in the north of the country. The results of Paris' efforts, however, have been quite modest at best – over the years, the security situation in the region has not improved but actually deteriorated further.

The militants, linked to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), have gained a foothold in the central parts of Mali and spread into the neighboring countries, Burkina Faso and Niger. Sectarian and ethnic violence persists in the region, while the jihadists frequently launch attacks resulting in massive civilian and military casualties.

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The deteriorating security situation – amid a growing French military presence – has also fueled dissent among the citizens of the Sahel countries, Mali and Niger in particular. Mass protests saw demonstrators burning French flags and calling on Paris to leave altogether, arguing that a French military presence only foments violence on the ground in its former African colonies.

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