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France and its European partners to pull troops from Mali

France, its European partners and Canada will end their anti-terror operations in Mali by June, a joint statement issued ahead of an EU-African Union summit said on Thursday, after months of increasingly tense relations with the West African state.

Paris, 17 February 2022 (dpa/MIA) — France, its European partners and Canada will end their anti-terror operations in Mali by June, a joint statement issued ahead of an EU-African Union summit said on Thursday, after months of increasingly tense relations with the West African state.

France has a deployment of 4,300 soldiers in Africa’s Sahel region to help combat terrorism. A main focus of the mission known as Operation Barkhane is Mali, where up to 2,500 French soldiers are stationed.

France is also leading Task Force Takuba, to which several European countries have contributed troops and whose remit is also to fight terrorism.

Frustrations have grown between the military-led transitional government in Mali, which came to power in a coup, and the former colonial power France, plus other Western countries active there.

“We urge the Malian authorities to complete the transition period and organize free, fair and credible elections,” the joint statement read.

Mali has experienced three military coups since 2012 and is considered politically extremely unstable. The last coup was in May.

Earlier this month, the EU announced sanctions targeting members of the Malian military government, accusing them of delaying elections.

Sources close to the Élysée Palace have said France generally believes that a successful outcome in Mali is no longer likely, though they remain willing to maintain a military presence in neighboring countries.

Many Islamist militias regularly carry out attacks in Mali and nearby Niger and Burkina Faso.

Several armed groups are active in the Sahel, some of whom have sworn allegiance to the terrorist groups Islamic State or al-Qaeda.

Top officials from the EU and the AU, along with leaders of their respective member states, will meet in Brussels for a joint summit later on Thursday.

The talks in Brussels were supposed to be a chance for the 27 EU and 40 AU leaders to publicly deepen their ties, and were supposed to be a highlight of France’s term holding the rotating EU presidency.

But the Mali announcement, which had been brewing for several days, is likely to overshadow the talks covering a broad range of issues including climate, trade and public investment.

Another source of tensions at the summit in Brussels could be Covid-19 vaccines. African leaders are frustrated with what they view as as Europe’s hoarding of vaccines.

For comparison, 12% of the African population is vaccinated against Covid-19, according to the AU, compared to 71% in the EU, according to figures from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

The EU stresses it has a vaccine donation program that has provided 148 million doses to Africa, with a target of 450 million dose by mid-2022.

The EU recently pledged another €125 million ($143 million) to support coronavirus vaccination campaigns in Africa and help with the training of medical teams and vaccine distribution.

There is also resentment among AU leaders that the EU refuses to allow the waiver of vaccine patents, which would help pharmaceutical companies in Africa to produce more Covid-19 vaccines.

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