French Defence Minister Florence Parly has warned Mali against a deal with Russian private security group Wagner amid claims the country’s military government is close to hiring 1,000 mercenaries.
Two French sources told the AFP news agency on Tuesday that the Malian government was nearing a deal with the controversial Russian firm, which would underline Moscow’s growing influence in the region.
“If the Malian authorities entered into a contract with Wagner, it would be extremely worrying and contradictory, incoherent with everything that we have done for years and we intend to do to support the countries of the Sahel region,” Parly told a parliamentary commission.
Earlier on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Malian defence ministry did not deny the discussions, which were first reported by the Reuters news agency on Monday.
“Mali intends to diversify its relationships in the medium term to ensure the security of the country,” the spokesperson told AFP. “We haven’t signed anything with Wagner, but we are talking with everyone.”
Four sources told Reuters that the Wagner Group would be paid about six billion CFA francs ($10.8m) a month for its services, and that the mercenaries’ presence would jeopardise Mali’s funding from the international partners and allied training missions that have helped rebuild Mali’s army.