France will press the EU to agree on sanctions against Mali after its military-dominated leadership has put a timetable for the election on the shelf, the French foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Jean-Yves Le Drian said in an interview with AFP that Mali risked being “suffocated” if the military junta in the West African country did not live up to its responsibilities and stopped trying to “cheat” the country’s partners.
Le Drian, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said EU action would be in line with the unparalleled sanctions agreed with the West African economic bloc ECOWAS, which Paris has strongly supported.
“We will propose that these sanctions be applied at European level, both against Malian leaders but also with economic and financial measures,” Le Drian said.
He added that the issue would be discussed by EU foreign ministers at a meeting in the French city of Brest from Thursday, and added that Mali was now a “European issue”.
France is going to downsize forces deployed in Mali and the region to fight a jihadist insurgency in favor of a multinational force called Takuba, including troops from EU states.
In addition to closing borders and imposing a trade embargo, Mali’s regional neighbors also cut financial aid and froze the country’s assets at the Central Bank of West African states.
The move followed a proposal by Mali’s interim government last month to remain in power for up to five years before the election, despite international demands to respect a promise to hold elections in February.
“The junta is trying to deceive all its partners,” Le Drian said, noting how Bamako had called for help from Russian Wagner mercenaries and the “unacceptable” slippage of the election schedule.
“It is now up to the junta to take responsibility. Otherwise you risk seeing this country suffocated.”
As France is already trying to tighten the border for the military rulers, the flagship airline Air France said on Wednesday that in line with official decisions, it will suspend flights to and from Mali for the time being.
Mali’s relations with its neighbors and partners have steadily deteriorated since a coup led by Colonel Assimi Goita in August 2020 against the country’s elected president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Under threat of sanctions, Goita had promised to hold presidential and parliamentary elections and to restore civilian rule by February 2022.
But he staged a de facto second coup in May 2021, forcing away an interim civilian government and disrupting the timetable for restoring democracy, while declaring himself interim president.
President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that the “unparalleled sanctions” from ECOWAS were a sign of “deep condemnation of the military junta’s behavior” in Mali and its “absolute failure” to honor its commitments.