The African members of the U.N. Security Council urged their counterparts on Tuesday to support sanctions imposed this week on Mali’s coup leaders by a bloc of West African nations.
“We call for the Security Council to respect and embrace the determination of the heads of state and government of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), that the proposal by the authorities to extend the transition to five years is unacceptable and that an expedited transition to constitutional rule in Mali should be undertaken without delay,” Michel Biang, Gabon’s U.N. ambassador, told the 15-nation council on behalf of his government, Ghana and Kenya. The three African states currently hold seats on the Security Council.
In a special summit on January 9, ECOWAS members imposed sanctions on Mali’s military government, which seized power in a coup, after it said it would not hold elections on Feb. 27, 2022, but at the end of 2025.
The sanctions include the closing of land and air borders between ECOWAS member states and Mali; the suspension of all commercial and financial transactions (with humanitarian exemptions); the freezing of assets and public enterprises located in the region in commercial banks; and the suspension of financial assistance from ECOWAS.
Mali responded by closing its borders with ECOWAS states and recalling its ambassadors.
“The number one interest of the A3 (Gabon, Ghana and Kenya) is in a peaceful and secure Mali, whose government reflects the will of its people and that is in full control of its territory,” Kenya’s U.N. envoy Martin Kimani told reporters following the meeting.
He urged the Malian authorities to comply with ECOWAS’s conditions for the gradual removal of the sanctions by producing an acceptable transitional calendar.
“In his address to the nation on 10 January, our president stated that despite the illegal, illegitimate and inhumane nature of these decisions, Mali remains open to dialogue with ECOWAS to strike a balance between the interests of the Malian people and respect for the principles of the organization,” Issa Konfourou, Mali’s U.N. ambassador, said of Interim President Assimi Goita.
The United Nations, which has more than 15,000 peacekeeping troops and police in the country, urged a quick resolution to issues linked to the transition.
“A protracted impasse will make it much harder to find a consensual way out, while increasing hardship for the population and further weakening state capacity,” the head of the U.N. mission, El-Ghassim Wane, told the council. “Such a scenario will have far-reaching consequences for Mali and its neighbors.”
Several Western council members expressed concern about reports that Russian-backed mercenaries have been invited to Mali by the transitional military government.
“The confirmed presence of the Wagner Group in Mali risks destabilizing the country further,” Britain’s Deputy U.N. envoy James Kariuki told the council, referring to the contractors by name.
“The deployment of mercenaries will only increase the challenges facing Mali,” he said. “We urge the Malian authorities to rethink their decision.”
“We regret the fact that transitional authorities are using already limited public funds to pay foreign mercenaries, rather than supporting the national forces and public services for the benefit of the Malian people,” French Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere said. “France and its closest partners robustly condemn the deployment on Malian territory of mercenaries from the Wagner Group who are known to threaten civilians, pillage resources, violate international law and the sovereignty of states.”
Western states have accused Wagner mercenaries of involvement in conflicts in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic and Ukraine.
Russia has denied any links with the group, and its envoy dismissed his counterparts’ accusations.
“We believe Malians have every right to interact with other partners that are ready to cooperate in promoting security,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said. “The hysteria around a Russian private military company is another manifestation of double standards, because it is well known that this market is dominated by Western countries.”
Mali’s envoy denied that mercenaries are present on its territory, saying those who accuse the government are engaging in a “false information campaign.”
Konfourou said the two countries have a long relationship dating to the 1960s and currently, Moscow has military personnel in Mali to train its military on Russian equipment.