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Mali: France accuses Russians of smear effort

April 22, 2022

The French military says it has filmed Russian mercenaries burying bodies near an army base in northern Mali. France says it suspects the operation was part of a disinformation campaign against its troops.

French soldiers of Operation Barkhane
French soldiers are pulling out across Mali after a breakdown in trust between Paris and BamakoImage: Philippe De Poulpiquet/MAXPPP/dpa/picture alliance

France's military has released footage that appears to show soldiers burying bodies in northern Mali, which it says is part of a smear campaign by Russia's mercenary Wagner Group.

The French say the move to discredit their forces is part of a coordinated campaign of multiple information attacks over recent months.

What is France saying?

The French army says it filmed the video near the Gossi base in northern Mali, which it has now handed over to Malian troops.

It says the aim appears to be to falsely accuse France's departing forces of leaving behind mass graves.

The video, filmed by a "sensor" drone and seen by both the AFP and Associated Press news agencies, shows what appear to be Caucasian soldiers covering bodies with sand.

It was filmed some 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the base immediately after the handover.

Several tweets posted on accounts that support Russia, or fake accounts allegedly created by Wagner, blame the French for the killings.

Mali seeks closer ties with Russia

France says the drone images allow them to "draw a direct line" between Wagner's activities and the actions attributed to its soldiers.

"This maneuver to discredit the Barkhane force seems coordinated. It is representative of multiple information attacks French soldiers have faced for several months," it said.

What's been happening in Mali?

Relations between Paris and Bamako have deteriorated sharply since a military junta seized power in 2020.

Deepening ties between the Malian regime and Moscow have hastened the end of Barkhane, France's decade-long military operation in the West African country.

France and the United States say Wagner mercenaries have deployed in Mali. However, the military-dominated government in Mali denies the accusations and says the Russians in the country are military instructors.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced the pullout in February. The French army said it had transferred control of the Gossi base to Malian soldiers on Tuesday, in a safe, orderly and transparent manner.

There has been growing anti-French sentiment in West Africa, where French forces have operated since 2013 to counter jihadi insurgencies. Social media campaigns have targeted French troops.

France pulls troops out of Mali

On Wednesday, the United Nations said it was "extremely concerned" that Mali had stopped investigators from visiting the scene of an alleged atrocity in late March.

It is believed that at least 300 men were summarily executed during a March 27-31 raid on Moura. The group Human Rights Watch this month accused unnamed Russian mercenaries of involvement in the killings.

Germany has warned that its forces will not cooperate with Mali's military while it maintains links to Russia. The EU has decided to halt its military training mission there citing insufficient guarantees from Mali over Wagner.

rc/nm (AFP, AP)