Niamey – A senior US envoy has expressed “grave concern” that Russian mercenaries may be deployed to Mali and undermine international efforts to defeat violent extremism in west Africa, a US statement said on Tuesday.
US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield spoke after visiting Mali and then Niger as part of a UN delegation in the last few days.
“We believe Niger’s partners must address security together,” Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement after her talks with Niger’s president Mohamed Bazoum.
Security provision must be “inclusive, equitable,” while respecting human rights, she said, praising Niger’s own democratic example.
“To that end, I expressed our grave concerns about reports that Russian mercenaries may deploy to Mali and the risk that would pose to regional peace and security and the broader Sahel,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
“Russian mercenaries engage in human rights abuses of civilians, extract steep costs in payments and mineral concessions, and deprive local citizens of critically needed resources,” the US envoy said.
“Any role for Russian mercenaries in the region will likely exacerbate the current security situation. Instead, we hope Niger will work with us on our common goal: countering terrorism and denying violent extremism a home.”
The UN delegation visited Mali on Saturday and Sunday to press the military-led interim government to restore democracy following two coups in nine months.
The Wagner group, with which Moscow denies any link, provides maintenance services, military equipment and training in the countries where they are deployed.
But France and other critics accuse the Wagner group of benefitting from their resources and of serving Kremlin interests.
Wagner personnel have been reported in the Central African Republic and other African countries, as well as in Syria and Libya.
Despite a 2015 peace agreement, poor and landlocked Mali, home to at least 20 ethnic groups, has been racked by jihadist and intercommunal violence, as well as coups in August 2020 and May this year.
Military intervention by France and the UN has failed to quell an Islamist insurgency that has swept into central Mali and spilled over into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, leaving thousands dead and forcing hundreds of thousands more from their homes.
French officials say the possible future presence of the Wagner group would be incompatible with the French military presence.
At the start of October, the French army said it had seen no sign of a Wagner deployment in Mali.
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