Senegal says keeping troops in Mali after opposition lashing

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Senegal’s army says it is standing by the country’s commitments to the UN’s peacekeeping mission in neighboring Mali, after an opposition leader suggested it was withdrawing.

The West African state is one of the biggest contributors to the MINUSMA force in Mali, which is facing an escalating extremist insurgency.

Ousmane Sonko, a fierce critic of President Macky Sall, said on Thursday that Senegal had only provided troops because it had been under pressure from France, the former colonial power.

He made the attack after a Senegalese battalion based in Sevare, central Mali, began its rotation this week, according to MINUSMA.

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“We see that Macky Sall has brought back the few Senegal units there, because they weren’t there as Senegalese, they were there because France asked to bring in troops,” Sonko said.

Sonko also gave his full-throated support for Malian strongman Colonel Assimi Goita in his battle against the extremists.

Announcing his bid for the presidency in elections in 2024, Sonko said that if he won, “we will send troops to support our Malian brothers and end this gangrene once and for all.”

In a statement issued hours later, the army said that the troop switch at Sevare was simply a “routine rotation.”

“Contrary to certain reports in the press, Senegal has not withdrawn from Mali,” it said.

The rotation, it said, was “a normal operation designed to replace one for one the troops that have been committed (by Senegal) since the onset of the crisis.”

Launched in 2013, MINUSMA – the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali – is one of the UN’s biggest and most dangerous missions, with around 17,500 troops, police, civilians and volunteers.

Its Senegalese contingent numbers 1,300 soldiers, gendarmes and police, according to the army.

Sonko also said he was “encouraging President Assimi Goita because he has not lost face.”

Goita heads a junta that forced out Mali’s elected president, Ibraham Boubacar Keita, in August 2020 and carried out a second coup in May 2021.

Since then, Mali has woven close ties with the Kremlin and fallen out with France, whose last troops left the country this week more than nine and a half years after they first deployed.

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