BERLIN (AP) — The German government expressed concern Wednesday at reports on the possible deployment of Russian mercenaries in Mali.
Germany has several hundred soldiers taking part in United Nations stabilization and European Union training missions in the West African country.
“We find the possibility of such a cooperation (between Mali and private mercenaries) very worrying too,” said German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr, echoing comments by government officials in France, which has a much larger military presence in Mali.
A defense ministry spokeswoman, Christina Routsi, said that if the Malian government were to go ahead with the reported plans then Germany would reach out to its European and international partners, and “examine possible consequences.”
Asked whether that included examining whether the basis for Germany's current military mission in Mali was still fulfilled, Routsi said: “That's precisely what we will examine.”
French Defense Minister Florence Parly, speaking on Tuesday to a parliamentary commission, said about what she called “a rumor” that “if the Malian authorities were to enter into a contract” with Russian mercenaries, “it would be extremely preoccupying and contradictory, incoherent with everything we have done for years” in the region.
France now has more than 5,000 troops in the Sahel. Yet Paris announced this year plans to reduce that force to 2,500 to 3,000 troops in the coming years.
French troops have been present in Mali since 2013, when they intervened to force Islamic extremist rebels from power in towns across the country’s north. The operation was later expanded to include other countries in an effort to help stabilize the broader Sahel region.
Russia has denied any official military involvement in Mali.
“There are no representatives of the Russian Armed Forces there, and no official negotiations are being held,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday.
A Kremlin-backed private military company, Wagner Group, has been accused by western governments of human rights abuses in the Central African Republic and involvement in the conflict in Libya.