French military planes cross Mali in a “clear breach” of airspace, says the junta

Mali’s army-dominated government on Wednesday condemned what it called a “clear invasion” of its airspace by a French military plane this week and warned of potential consequences if such practices were to continue.

Malian government spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga said a complaint had been issued to France after one of its military planes traveled between the Ivory Coast capital Abidjan and the northern Malian city of Gao on Tuesday.

The flight was a “clear intrusion” into Malian airspace, the statement said, given the closure of most of the country’s land and air borders due to regional sanctions recently imposed on the Sahel state.

The French military plane had also shut down its transponder, which prevented it from communicating with Malian aviation authorities, according to the statement.

It added that the government would “refuse all responsibility for the risks to which the perpetrators of these practices may be exposed in the event of a further violation of our airspace”.

But a French military official, who declined to be named, denied the Malian government’s claims, saying the plane’s transponder had been switched to “military mode”.

“All procedures were respected,” the official said, adding that the Malian authorities had also approved the plane’s flight plan.

On Sunday, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed to close its land and air borders with Mali and impose a trade embargo on late elections.

The sanctions – which France has supported – came after Mali’s army-dominated government last month proposed that they stay in power for up to five years before democracy is restored.

Mali’s junta had, after a military takeover in August 2020, previously promised to hold elections on February 27.

In response to the regional sanctions, Mali also announced that it was closing its borders with ECOWAS members – with the exception of the military-ruled Guinea, which does not apply the measures.

On Tuesday, the West African Air Transport Agency ASECNA informed Mali that its airspace had been broken by a French military plane.

However, French Army spokesman Pascal Ianni said “the closure of the borders does not concern military flights”.

France has thousands of troops in Mali and neighboring Sahel countries as part of an anti-jihadist force.

Its relations with Mali, a former colonial possession, have deteriorated sharply since the military takeover in 2020.


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