The US has placed sanctions on three top Malian officials said to be co-ordinating the presence of Russian private military firm Wagner in the West African country.
They are Mali’s defence minister, air force chief and the deputy chief of staff, says US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
He says civilian deaths have tripled since Wagner forces were deployed to Mali in December 2021, adding “many of those deaths were the result of operations conducted by the Malian armed forces alongside members of the Wagner group”.
Washington and its allies have for years hit the Wagner group and its supporters with sanctions, accusing the paramilitary group of rights abuses and spreading misinformation. In January, Washington designated Wagner as a “transnational criminal organisation”.
In 2022, the European Union agreed to impose travel bans and asset freezes on five members of Mali’s junta after the military rulers went back on an agreement to organise elections in February, three diplomats said.
Last week, the UK sanctioned 13 individuals with links to Wagner in the Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan. The sanctions target three businesses connected to the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and three to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Since French troops left Mali last August and the subsequent demand for withdrawal of the UN force there, the Malian junta, which seized power in May 2021, has increasingly turned to Wagner.
French troops had been in Mali at the request of the then-government, under Operation Barkhane, however, since seizing power in 2020, Mali’s military rulers have fallen out with France and have instead turned to Russia to help in their fight against Islamist insurgents who are wreaking havoc across much of the country.
Wagner is thought to have some 1,000 troops in the Sahel nation that has been the epicentre of jihadist turmoil and political unrest for years.
The UK is the latest country to pull its troops from Mali, with France formally ending its decade-long presence last year.
Britain pulling out its 300 troops from the peacekeeping force in November last year.
August 2022, Germany military suspended all reconnaissance and transport operations in Mali after a planned personnel rotation was blocked by Malian authorities.
In May, German troops started to withdraw from Mali as the mission that has been hampered by disputes with the ruling military junta in Bamako and the arrival of Russian forces.
Likewise, Ivory Coast is gradually pull out its forces and police from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).