PARIS: France must pressure the European Union to agree to sanctions against Mali after its military-dominated rulers suspended a timetable for elections, the French foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Jean-Yves Le Drian told AFP in an interview that Mali was in danger of being “suffocated” unless the West African country’s military junta assumes its responsibilities and stops seeking to “fooling” the country’s partners.
Le Drian, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said the EU measures would be in line with unprecedented sanctions agreed with the West African economic bloc ECOWAS which Paris has strongly backed.
“We will propose to apply these sanctions at the European level, both those against the Malian leaders but also the economic and financial measures,” Le Drian said.
He added that the issue would be discussed by EU foreign ministers at a meeting in the French city of Brest from Thursday, adding that Mali was now a “European issue”.
France is preparing to reduce the forces deployed in Mali and the region to fight an extremist insurgency in favor of a multinational force called Takuba, including troops from EU states.
In addition to closing borders and imposing a trade embargo, Mali’s regional neighbors have also halted financial aid and frozen the country’s assets at the Central Bank of West African States.
The move follows a proposal by Mali’s caretaker government last month to stay in power for up to five years before an election is held, despite international demands for it to keep its promise to hold elections in February.
“The junta is trying to deceive all of its partners,” Le Drian said, noting how Bamako called for help from Wagner’s Russian mercenaries as well as the “unacceptable” shift in the electoral calendar.
“It is now up to the junta to take responsibility. Otherwise, he risks seeing this country suffocate.
With France already seeking to tighten the noose on military leaders, airline Air France said on Wednesday that, in accordance with official decisions, it was suspending flights to and from Mali until further notice.
Mali’s relations with its neighbors and partners have steadily deteriorated since a coup led by Colonel Assimi Goita in August 2020 against the country’s elected president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Under threat of sanctions, Goita promised to hold presidential and legislative elections and restore civilian rule by February 2022.
But he staged a de facto second coup in May 2021, forcing an interim civilian government and disrupting the timetable for restoring democracy, while declaring himself interim president.
President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that the “unprecedented sanctions” by ECOWAS were a sign of “deep condemnation of the behavior of the military junta” in Mali and its “absolute failure” to respect its commitments.