Mali’s military government has accused France of spying after the French military released drone video of what it said were Russian mercenaries staging a mass grave near a military base the French handed back to Mali.
Mali’s military government on Tuesday night accused France of spying and deliberately violating its airspace in the latest tension between the junta and the former colonial power.
Speaking on ORTM state TV, Military spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga said France violated the government’s order to get permission for all flights over Mali.
In the video, posted on the station’s Facebook page, Colonel Maiga said there were 50 cases of deliberate violation of Malian airspace by foreign aircraft — mainly French forces.
He said these included intelligence gathering flights and drones flying at high altitude to engage in activities considered spying, intimidation, and subversion.
Maiga cited a French drone flight over Mali’s Gossi military base on April 20 that he said was “illegal.”
French forces handed the Gossi military base to the Malian army on April 19.
Last week, France released drone footage of what it said were Russian mercenaries burying bodies near the base to stage a mass grave to be blamed on French troops.
Mali’s army on Friday said it found the mass grave on their arrival at the base so its forces could not be blamed for it.
Colonel Maiga’s statement on state TV did not mention any Russian mercenaries but claimed that France released the drone footage to “tarnish the image” of Mali’s army.
Earlier Tuesday, Mali’s military said it would investigate the mass grave.
News of the grave near the base first emerged after a Twitter account called “Dia Diarra” posted a video alleging that the French had left the grave when they withdrew. The account, which had a profile photo taken from a Russian social media website VK and has since been deleted, claimed to be that of a Malian veteran and “patriot.”
The French military had been gradually withdrawing its troops from Mali since sending them in 2012 to help fight against Islamist militants.
But tensions with Mali’s military since a 2020 coup led France in February to announce it would pull all troops from its former colony.
France and several other countries have accused Mali of working with the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group of Russian mercenaries.
U.N. experts accuse fighters with the Wagner Group of committing abuses where they operate, such as the Central African Republic, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine.
The Malian and Russian governments have denied having any deal with mercenaries, with Mali citing only official Russian military trainers who are helping in the fight against Islamist militants in the region.
Reported by Annie Risemberg/VOA.