(AFP) Malian authorities have accused the French army of “spying” and “subversion” when it used a drone to film what France alleged were mercenaries burying bodies near a military base.
The drone flew “illegally” over the Gossi base on April 20, the day after French forces handed the site back to Mali, the government said in a statement on Tuesday.
The following day, the French army shared a video it said showed Russian mercenaries covering bodies with sand to falsely accuse the departing troops of war crimes. Two soldiers could be seen filming the half-buried corpses.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mali’s military announced an inquiry into the discovery of a mass grave at the Gossi base.
The army said it found the grave the day after the images were published and claimed the bodies’ advanced stage of putrefaction ruled out Malian soldiers’ responsibility.
It subsequently accused France of spying and attempting to sully the reputation of Malian forces with the drone-filmed video.
“The said drone was present … to spy on our brave FAMa (Malian armed forces),” government spokesman Abdoulaye Maiga said. “In addition to the spying, French forces were guilty of subversion by publishing false images worked up to accuse the FAMa of responsibility for killing civilians, with the aim of tarnishing their image.”
Bamako said “foreign aircraft, notably operated by French forces” had deliberately violated Malian airspace more than 50 times since the start of the year.
France, Mali’s former colonial power, is winding down its almost decade-long, counterinsurgency military operation in the West African state.
In February, it decided to pull out its troops after falling out with the military government, especially over its increasing engagement with the Kremlin.
France and the United States have accused mercenaries from the Kremlin-linked security firm Wagner of deployment in Mali, which claims the Russians are just military instructors helping to restore order.
Vast swaths of Mali lie beyond government control due to the uprising which began in 2012 before spreading three years later to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
The landlocked Sahel state has been ruled by a military government since an August 2020 coup, propelled by protests against the government’s handling of the war against the armed groups.
The conflict has led to thousands of military and civilian deaths and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.
The military government initially promised to restore civilian rule, but it failed to meet an earlier commitment to West African bloc ECOWAS to hold elections in February this year, prompting regional sanctions.