Sweden to withdraw from French-led special forces mission in Mali

BREST, France, Jan 14 (Reuters) – Sweden will withdraw troops from a European special forces mission in the Sahel region this year and review its participation in a UN force in Mali due to the presence of sub -private Russian military contractors, the foreign minister said. .

Foreign Minister Ann Linde has criticized Mali’s military junta for trying to extend its grip on power and for hiring Russian mercenaries.

“We have already decided that this year we will withdraw (from) the Takuba force,” Ann Linde told reporters Friday on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in western France, making reference to the European task force.

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“The question is what do we do with Minusma,” she said, referring to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali.

The Swedish parliament has approved the deployment of up to 150 soldiers in Takuba in 2020 and it has some 250 soldiers as part of Minusma, which runs until 2024.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sweden’s departure from Takuba in March was in line with Stockholm commitments and had nothing to do with the arrival of mercenaries or the political situation in the country. country.

A French military source said that Sweden had always planned to withdraw its troops after two years and that its mandate ended in March. The source said Swedish officers would continue to be part of the mission.

Takuba was created as a partial successor to a French counterterrorism operation in the West African Sahel region that French President Emmanuel Macron began to reduce from its initial 5,000-strong force.

It includes some 14 European countries, which provide special forces, logistical and tactical support to work alongside regional troops for targeted operations against Islamist militants.

RUSSIAN MERCENARIES

Mali’s military-led interim government, which wants to extend his term by five years, has accused Paris of abandoning him. Citing security needs, Mali has hired private military contractors from Russia’s Wagner Group, whose members are mostly ex-servicemen.

France and its allies have declared that Mali’s use of the Wagner group is incompatible with their military presence.

The arrival of Russian mercenaries in Mali has heightened tensions between Europe and Russia amid a crisis on the Ukrainian border.

French officials said Paris would discuss with its partners how to respond operationally to Wagner’s arrival in Mali.

Most of Takuba’s operations are in the West African country.

Linde said Wagner’s confirmed arrival and the junta’s efforts to stay in power were unacceptable.

“We now know (there is) the Wagner group… and if they have a stronger impact, it will not be possible to continue with this large number of soldiers from us,” she said. said, adding that the Swedish parliament would debate Sweden’s decision. operations in Mali next week.

“Of course, there will be consequences.”

The European Union will impose sanctions on Mali in line with measures already taken by the ECOWAS West African group of states following the junta’s delay in holding elections after the 2020 coup. , EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday.

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Written by John Irish; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Frank Jack Daniel

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