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Mali junta expels French ambassador

Mali’s military leaders have expelled the French ambassador over what they called “outrageous” comments made by the French foreign minister about the transitional government.

France said it was recalling Joel Meyer, who was given 72 hours to leave.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian last week said the Mali junta was “illegitimate” and “out of control”.

Western powers are also concerned about Russia’s growing involvement in the former French colony.

Moscow reportedly sent military advisors in recent weeks to bolster local security forces in their fight with jihadist insurgents. Unconfirmed reports say hundreds of Russian mercenaries are also operating in the country.

France, which intervened in 2013 to support the government against the jihadists, plans to reduce its own troop deployment.

In another interview, Mr Le Drian accused Russian mercenaries of “helping themselves to the country’s resources in exchange for protecting the junta”.

Relations between France and Mali, a landlocked country in West Africa which is one of the world’s poorest nations, have deteriorated since the army seized power in August 2020.

Tensions increased further this month when the junta reversed an agreement to arrange elections in February and vowed to hold power until 2025.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly accused Mali’s rulers of stepping up “provocations” against his country.

Mr Meyer “was summoned and notified of a decision by the government inviting him to leave the national territory within 72 hours following hostile and outrageous comments by the French foreign affairs minister recently”, the Malian government said in a statement read out on national television.

The French foreign ministry confirmed it was recalling the ambassador soon after.

France stepped in in 2013 after Islamist militants overran parts of the north. With the help of France, Mali’s army has recaptured the territory, but militants are waging an increasingly bloody insurgency across the Sahel region.

France also has troops in Niger and Burkina Faso, which are also fighting jihadist insurgencies.