The defense minister of France arrived in Mali on Sunday to express her government’s opposition to talks between Mali and Russia over hiring Russian mercenaries to fight jihadists.
She is also calling on the junta to keep a promise to return the country to constitutional order in February.
Diplomatic and security sources have told Reuters that Mali's military junta is close to recruiting the Russian Wagner Group, and France has launched a diplomatic drive to thwart it, saying such an arrangement is incompatible with a continued French presence.
West Africa's main political bloc, ECOWAS, as well as other allies combating militants in the Sahel region, have also expressed concerns over the potential deal.
But Mali's junta, which seized power in August 2020, has dug in, noting that France has begun scaling down its decade-old operation against insurgents linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State across the region.
On Sunday, Mali's foreign ministry called objections from neighbor Niger to the prospect of a deal with Wagner "unacceptable, unfriendly and condescending."
The visit by Florence Parly to Mali is the highest-level trip by French officials since the talks with Wagner emerged.
An official from the French Armed Forces Ministry told reporters ahead of the visit that Parly would stress "the heavy