BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Friday imposed sanctions on five senior members of Mali’s transitional government, including Prime Minister Choguel Maiga, accusing them of working to obstruct and undermine the transition from military to civilian rule.
The move comes days after Mali coup leaders ordered France’s ambassador to leave in what was the latest episode in a growing diplomatic crisis between the impoverished Sahel region country, its African neighbors and European partners. But the sanctions weren't linked to the expulsion.
Others hit by the EU’s asset freezes and travel bans include members of the inner circle of Col. Assimi Goita, who put himself in charge last year after dismissing the civilian leaders of Mali’s transitional government. EU citizens and companies are forbidden to grant the five access to funds.
Tensions escalated further, notably with the EU and other international partners, when Goita postponed the next presidential vote by four years, until 2026. The West African regional group ECOWAS imposed tough economic sanctions in response, and the Europeans are following suit.
Maiga is said by the EU to be “directly responsible for postponing the elections foreseen in the Transition Charter, and he is therefore obstructing and undermining the successful completion of the political transition of Mali.”
In December, the EU also slapped sanctions on eight people and three oil companies linked to the Wagner Group of Russian mercenaries, which is currently operating in Mali and stands accused of rights abuses in the Central African Republic, Libya and Syria.
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 been training the Mali armed forces since 2013. It had planned to continue to do so despite the severe instability and political upheaval.
But the expulsion of France's envoy is raising questions about the viability of the mission, as well as the future of the European-led military task force known as Takuba. Last week, the Malian government ordered Danish soldiers out of the country just as they arrived to join the task force.
Norway has since reversed a decision to take part, and Germany is debating what to do about its contingent.
Tense ties with the junta in Mali are posing France one of its toughest challenges in Africa in years. Thousands of French troops are stationed there, and make up the core of a major international anti-terrorism operation in the increasingly restive Sahel region; a fertile breeding ground for extremists.
Any decision by France to pull its troops out would shake up the region.