Mali’s junta wants to review an “unbalanced” defense agreement with France

In the midst of rising tensions between Mali and France, Mali’s transitional authorities have called for a review of the 2013 bilateral defense agreement between Paris and Bamako. Jowharexamines some of the details of the agreement and the likely effect of the latest developments on the ground.

Fired by harsh sanctions that have effectively closed Mali’s borders and face Western condemnation of the presence of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group, Mali’s military junta has now taken on the 2013 bilateral defense agreement between Paris and Bamako.

In an interview with Jowharon Sunday, Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said Bamako had officially asked France for a review of the bilateral defense pact. The request, which included proposed changes, was made in late December, Diop added.

France has not yet officially responded to the request, although French diplomatic sources have told reporters that Paris is “investigating” it.

The Malian Defense Minister’s public announcement of the request for scrutiny means that efforts are increasing and “the situation is much more difficult and becoming more and more complicated with France”, explained Wassim Nasr, FRANCE 24’s anti-terrorism expert.

Relations between France and Mali have collapsed since the West African regional bloc ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) on January 9 announced heavy sanctions against Mali due to the junta’s delayed electoral schedule. The junta, which took power in August 2020, is under regional pressure to return the country to civilian rule.

The sanctions, supported by France and the EU, have effectively closed the land and air borders of the landlocked nation, with the UN and Air France announcing a temporary halt to flights to Mali.

Jowharexamines the details of the bilateral defense agreements and why they have become a new source of strife between France and Mali.

An emergency agreement for military intervention. The defense agreements between France and Mali were signed in March 2013 following the launch of the French military operation in Mali on January 11, 2013. Nearly a decade ago, when northern Mali fell to local rebel and jihadist groups, the Malian authorities officially demanded a French military intervention when insurgents snatched towards the capital Bamako.

France complied and deployed about 4,000 troops during Operation Serval.

One year later, the military mission was expanded to include anti-insurgency operations in Mali and the wider Sahel region during Operation Barkhane.

Prior to the defense agreement in March 2013, the security partnership between France and Mali was defined by a technical cooperation agreement, signed in 1985, which provided for the possible deployment of French soldiers on training missions or during operations overseen by the Malian army.

The bilateral security pact of 2013 gave French forces legal status to facilitate their intervention on Malian soil.

Enables “lasting peace and security” The 2013 agreement, which was signed in a hurry when insurgents marched on Malia’s capital, was ratified on 16 July 2014 in Bamako during a visit by France’s then Minister of Defense, Jean-Yves Le Drian, to Mali.

This agreement, based on similar agreements between Mali and several of its African partners (Cameroon, Togo, the Central African Republic, Gabon and Senegal), aims to establish long-term security cooperation.

It contributes to “lasting peace and security … especially by securing border areas and fighting terrorism”. The agreement also allows access to Malian territory, “including its territorial waters and airspace”, with the prior approval of the state.

The agreement is valid for a five-year period, after which it is automatically renewed. However, it specifies that “the parties [sic] may amend this Treaty in writing at any time and by mutual agreement. ”

The deal was reviewed in 2014, when Operation Serval gave way to Operation Barkhane. It was reviewed again in 2020, with the launch of the Takuba Task Force, which mainly consists of special forces from several EU countries.

In an interview with Malian state television late on Saturday, Mali’s interim prime minister, Choguel Kokalla Maïga, openly criticized the military deal, calling it “unbalanced” and noting that Mali “can not even fly over its territory without France’s permission”.

On January 12, Mali condemned what was called a “clear intrusion” of its airspace by a French military plane flying from the Ivory Coast to Mali.

However, the French military maintains that air traffic control agreements exist to avoid air collisions between military aircraft. French Defense Minister Florence Parly told reporters last week that the restrictions under the new sanctions do not cover military flights.

French military sources claim that nothing has changed on the ground, Nasr noted. Surveillance and military flights in support of Mali’s army have continued. These include four joint operations between the French and Malian militaries and the Takuba Task Force in recent days, mainly carried out in the unstable Menaka region near the Niger border, Nasr added.

But diplomatic relations between Mali and its former colonial power have deteriorated since Colonel Assimi Goïta ousted Mali’s president, the late Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, in the August 2020 coup.

In recent months, the Malian junta has repeatedly accused Paris of meddling in the country’s affairs. Nationalist sentiments in the country have risen with the junta’s increasing regional and international isolation. Last week, tens of thousands of Malays responded to the junta’s call for protests against ECOWAS sanctions.

At the same time, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, has suspended all but emergency medical evacuation flights in the country pending negotiations with Malian authorities.

Negotiations and calls for revisions of agreements come as the security situation in Mali deteriorates, with Russian mercenaries engaging in their first fight against jihadist groups in the Menaka region, according to Nasr.

“If there are more complications at the military level, it will obviously benefit the jihadist factions that are present there,” Nasr said.

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