The French ambassador to Mali, Joël Meyer, was given seventy-two hours to leave the country as of January 31st, an order delivered by the military junta currently governing the African nation embroiled in a ten-year battle against Islamist insurgents.
The expulsion of the ambassador followed remarks by Meyer in French media that Mali’s ruling junta said were not compatible with friendly relations between the two countries.
Meyer has called the current military government that seized power for a second time in August 2021 “illegitimate.” He also took issue with the junta for allowing Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group into the country.
The European Union confirmed in December that the Russian private paramilitary company, as well as Russian geologists, were on the ground in Mali.
Meyer said that the Wagner Group “protected the authorities there [in Mali] in exchange for the exploitation of Mali’s mineral wealth.” The country is rich in gold and rare minerals.
The move by the military junta, which is only recognized internationally as an interim government, marks a low point in deteriorating relations of the former French colony with European partners who help in efforts to resist jihadist insurgents in many regions of the country.
In January, the military junta also expelled Danish forces that had recently deployed to Mali to help fight insurgents, contending they had not received the proper authorization to be in the country. Demark withdrew its troops, but Copenhagen protested that it had sent the forces at the request of Mali and that its accusations were unfounded.
Sweden has also announced it will withdraw its troops in March.
The Danish and Swedish troops were part of a European coalition lead by France that had been fighting Islamist insurgents since 2013. After eight years of limited success in containing the insurgents, France announced that it would be withdrawing troops and rethinking its strategy in Mali. Relations between France and its former colony worsened at the end of 2021 when the junta postponed elections originally planned for February, and when the presence of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group was confirmed in Mali.
In response to the expulsion of its ambassador, the French government stated in a press release that it was recalling Meyer and also affirmed its solidarity with Denmark, calling Bamako’s reasons for forcing the Danish forces out “unfounded.”