France accuses Russia of disinformation campaign in Mali

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France has accused Russia of mounting a disinformation campaign to discredit its almost decade-long military operation in Mali.

The French army released drone footage showing people, believed to be Russian troops, staging a mass grave in a bid to accuse French troops of war crimes in the West African country.

The development comes as France pulls its forces out of the country over a disagreement with the junta regime.

France was heading a Western coalition helping Mali fight an Islamist insurgency that began in 2012. The French first deployed in the country in 2013, under operation Barkhane.

Disagreement with the Malian government emerged following the 2020 ouster of the country’s democratically elected government.

The decision by the junta regime to hire the services of the Wagner Group, a security firm believed to have ties to the Russian government, worsened the West, leading to French President Emmanuel Macron announcing in February that French troops would withdraw from the country.

The Malian army, working with soldiers of the Wagner Group, has been taking over military bases abandoned by the French.

The French troops left the Gossi Camp on Tuesday, and a day later, a tweet appeared showcasing alleged war crimes.

Footage from aerial surveillance released by the French military on Thursday morning shows men covering about a dozen bodies with sand near the military base north of the country.

The footage also shows some of the men later filming the site.

According to reports, several tweets with pictures of the bodies were later posted on pro-Russian accounts, according to French army sources quoted in the reports.

One tweet from an account by a Malian name, Dia Diarra, states: “This is what the French left behind when they left base at #Gossi. These are excerpts from a video that was taken after they left! We cannot keep silent about this!”

The French army was quoted saying the move is part of a coordinated campaign by Russia which has gone on for months.

“This manoeuvre to discredit the Barkhane force seems coordinated. It is representative of multiple information attacks French soldiers have faced for several months,” it said.

Western governments say Wagner, which they believe has ties to the Kremlin, is deployed in Mali. But the junta has repeatedly denied this.

Late last month, over 300 people were massacred in Moura town, central Mali, in an incident that the West has linked to the Wagner group.

The Malian army said the slain people were terrorists killed in a five-day operation, but France, the US and the Human Rights Watch say they were civilians.

On Wednesday, the United Nations raised concerns, saying its officials investigating the case were prevented from doing their job.

Meanwhile, the 16 months deadline given to Mali by the regional bloc Ecowas to hold elections nears. However, the transition administration has said it cannot conduct the elections in under two years.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s office on Friday said that it hopes to reach an agreement with the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) mediators presently in the capital Bamako.

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