France is halting joint military operations with Mali over last week’s coup in the West African country.
It said the suspension would continue until it received guarantees about a return to civilian rule in Mali.
French forces have been supporting troops from Mali, Chad, Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso to fight militants in the Sahel region. On 25 May Mali’s military strongman, Col Assimi Goïta, ousted the country’s civilian president and prime minister.
This week the West African grouping Ecowas and the African Union (AU) suspended Mali from their bodies. On Thursday France’s armed forces ministry said that both Ecowas and the AU had set “the framework for the political transition in Mali”.
It added: “While awaiting these guarantees, France has decided to suspend, as a temporary measure, joint military operations with Malian forces.” French troops will continue to operate there independently.
Coup leader Colonel Assimi Goïta was named transitional president by the constitutional court last Friday – two days after he declared himself the interim leader. He defended the removal of President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane as necessary because they had failed in their duties and were seeking to sabotage the country’s transition.
Soldiers arrested and detained the two men after a cabinet reshuffle that Col Goïta said he was not consulted about. He also led the coup last August, which saw the elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta forced out of office. Col Goïta has now promised that a new prime minister will be appointed within days, and that elections will still go ahead next year as planned. Mali is a vast, landlocked former French colony, and large areas are poor and underdeveloped.
A coup in 2012 led to militant Islamists exploiting the chaos and seizing the north of the country.
French troops helped regain territory, but attacks have continued as the insurgents have capitalised on the persistent political instability in the region.
This has all led to public confidence waning over the army leaders’ ability to tackle the Islamist insurgency that has spilled into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.