EU, G5 countries meet amid turmoil in Mali, Burkina Faso

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Officials from the European Union and five countries of the north African Sahel are meeting Wednesday as the bloc readies to impose sanctions on Mali and as political turmoil roils Burkina Faso. The Europeans are also deeply concerned about the activities of Russian mercenaries in the region.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is holding talks in Brussels with the foreign ministers of Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Burkina Faso, which has been under the control of a military-led junta since Monday, will be represented by its ambassador, Jacqueline Marie Zaba Nikiema.

It’s the seventh ministerial meeting of its kind among the EU and the G5 Sahel group. No media access is permitted. Borrell will not take questions “for agenda reasons,” his office said.

Of chief concern for the Europeans in the strategically important but unstable Sahel region, which has proven a fertile breeding ground for extremists, is the decision by Mali’s interim government to delay elections due next month until 2026.

The West African regional group ECOWAS imposed tougher economic sanctions on Mali in response. The EU has set up a framework for imposing its own measures on the authorities for holding up the political transition but has not yet pulled the trigger.

Mali has struggled to contain an extremist insurgency since 2012. Rebels were forced from power in northern cities with the help of a French-led military operation, but they regrouped in the desert and began attacking the Malian army and its allies.

Insecurity has worsened with attacks on civilians and United Nations peacekeepers. The EU has also been training the Mali armed forces and plans to continue to do so for now despite the severe instability and political upheaval.

Ahead of the meeting, Borrell said that he is keen to hear from Mali Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop before the EU moves on sanctions.

He had said the sanctions would not be imposed before Wednesday because technical work on them has not been completed, “but I honestly think that it would not be the best way to welcome (Diop), to sanction him on the eve (of the G5 meeting), he or other members of his government.”

The EU is also concerned that the interim government accepted the presence of Russian mercenaries, the Wagner Group. Last month, the bloc slapped sanctions on eight people and three oil companies linked to the group, which is accused of rights abuses in the Central African Republic, Libya and Syria.

A report on the EU training mission, seen by The Associated Press, said the consequences of the Wagner Group’s presence, such as denial of access to Malian military bases “are already impacting EUTM activities and will certainly dictate, in short term, an evolution of the EU global posture.”

Burkina Faso’s takeover this week by the military Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration is also high on the agenda.

Earlier this week, Borrell called for calm in the country, and urged the armed forces “to remain faithful to their primary mission of protecting the population and defending the territory, while making known their demands in a non-violent manner.”

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