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“As the external support was diminished compared to those who assumed the obligation to help eradicate terrorism there, they turned to a private Russian military company,” Lavrov said at a press briefing at United Nations headquarters in New York, referring to a French plan. reduce its own military presence in Mali.

Russia also contributes to the defense of Mali at the state level, providing military and technical equipment, he said.

The Malian population is at a breaking point, he said, faced with “massacres, villages razed and innocent people slaughtered, in which women and their babies are often burned alive”.

Maiga also accused France of abandoning his country with the “unilateral” decision to withdraw its troops, and said his government was now justified in “seeking other partners”.

France has long been a major security player in the region. According to the French Ministry of Defense, in September, France had 5,100 troops deployed in five countries in the Sahel region: Chad, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.

But French President Emmanuel Macron announced in June 2021 the end of the current French deployment in the Sahel region, Operation Barkhane, with a gradual transfer to a multilateral mission.

The incoming international effort will be led by Task Force Takuba, a French-led European military task force that advises, assists and accompanies the Malian Armed Forces in the Sahel, according to the French president.

France has already raised concerns about the potential presence of Russian mercenaries in Mali, during a conversation between Lavrov and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian earlier this week on the sidelines of the General Assembly .

“The minister alerted his Russian counterpart to the serious consequences of the involvement of the Wagner group in the country,” read a statement from the French Foreign Ministry.

The Wagner Group is a secret Russian military contractor believed to be linked to – and funded by – Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch so close to the Kremlin that he is known as the “boss” of President Vladimir Putin.

Known to operate in Libya, the Central African Republic, Syria and Mozambique, the Wagner Soldiers for Hire have been repeatedly accused of bloody human rights violations.

Mali’s transitional government did not respond to a request for comment.

Report contributed by Johnny Hallam of CNN in Atlanta.

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