The European Union (EU) decided this Monday to suspend the bulk of its training and training mission for the Malian Army (EUTM), which it has been carrying out since 2013 and in which Spain plays a decisive role with some 500 soldiers. The decision, adopted by the European foreign ministers during a meeting held on Monday in Luxembourg, is due to the presence of mercenaries from the Russian Wagner group collaborating with the Malian Armed Forces and reports of massacres such as the one that took place in Moura at the end of March in which, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), some 300 civilians were killed, said the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell.
“We have decided to suspend some formations of our training mission in Mali EUTM that have been destined for the units of the Malian armed forces,” Borrell assured at a press conference. “Events force us to do so, unfortunately. There are not enough guarantees, on the part of the transitional authorities, about the non-interference of the Wagner company, which is beginning to be responsible for the sad events that have left dozens of deaths in Mali”, said the high representative.
Borrell referred to the massacre of some 300 civilians in Moura, committed by the Malian military with the collaboration of Russian instructors, according to HRW. “We cannot be collaborating with something that we can greatly regret. What happened in Moura, we cannot be training soldiers who may be part of this type of thing,” said Borrell, who once again called on the Malian authorities to allow an independent investigation into what happened.
Days after the massacre, the Malian government announced through a press release that it had eliminated 203 jihadists and taken 51 prisoners in a military operation carried out in Moura at the end of March. However, the testimonies collected by HRW assure that many of the murdered people were not members of jihadist groups and that none of them had a weapon with them. A military court of the Malian Army has announced the opening of an investigation, but the Malian transitional authorities refuse for now to accept the presence of United Nations or independent investigators.
Regarding the future of EUTM, Borrell added that the EU would have to “go to neighboring countries”, ensuring that the Sahel continues to be a priority for Brussels. He stated that he will continue to advise Malian soldiers on issues such as “the law of war, because the law also governs in times of war and that is not done by divine inspiration, someone has to explain what can and cannot be done.” ”. Already in 2020, the Council of the EU extended the EUTM mission until 2024 and extended its field of action to the rest of the G5 Sahel countries, that is, Mauritania, Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso, as well as its possible participation together with the Malian military. in the center of the country, although never in combat actions.
EUTM-Mali was established in 2013 with the aim of improving the military capabilities of the Malian Army, “so that it can recover the territorial integrity of the country”, according to the Spanish Ministry of Defense on its website. To this end, they train African soldiers in issues such as the fight against terrorism, special operations, human resource management, logistics and international humanitarian law, among other aspects.
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With its main base at the Koulikoro barracks, some 60 kilometers from Bamako, thousands of European soldiers have participated in the mission. Spain, which has not deployed troops on the ground in Mali either with the UN or with the European Takuba force, has indeed played a key role in the EUTM from the outset, contributing up to 530 soldiers, that is to say, practically the half of the mission total. In fact, Spanish generals have assumed command of EUTM up to three times, the last one in the first half of 2021. Germany, with some 300 soldiers at present, France and Belgium, among twenty countries, have also been key contributors to EUTM.
The suspension of the training missions of the Malian Army occurs in a context of the withdrawal of the French military operation Barkhane and other Western allies of Mali and, at the same time, of an increase in the Russian military presence through members of the company private Wagner. The military junta that has governed in Bamako since the 2020 coup d’état denies that they are mercenaries and assures that they are Russian Army instructors. This week the German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, is scheduled to meet with the Malian authorities to decide on the possible withdrawal of her troops from the United Nations mission (MINUSMA), some 1,100 troops out of a total of 14,000.