Denmark to withdraw troops from Mali's Sahel region, says foreign ministerComments
Denmark says it will withdraw a small military force from Mali despite concerns from European neighbours.
The Mali military junta had stated that Denmark did not have permission to deploy its 90 soldiers in the Sahel region.
The transitional Bamako government -- under coup leader Colonel Assimi Goita -- told Denmark to "immediately" pull out its forces on Wednesday.
The troops had arrived in Mali just one week earlier for a one-year deployment under a European counter-terrorism operation.
Danish foreign minister Jeppe Kofod confirmed on Thursday that the country's soldiers would withdraw from West Africa.
“Last night, the coup generals [in Mali] sent out a public statement where they reiterated that Denmark is not welcome,” he told reporters after a briefing of parliament’s foreign policy committee.
“That we will not accept. We have therefore decided, after consultations in the foreign policy committee — and there is backing there — that we pull our troops out.”
No timeline was given for when Denmark would withdraw its contingent, which includes special operations soldiers, a surgical team, and support personnel.
Fifteen European countries have deployed soldiers in southern Mali as part of the special international task force known as Takuba.
The French-led operation was launched in March 2020 to help protect civilians from jihadists in the so-called tri-border area between Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger.
Mali's transitional government surprised Europe on Wednesday by saying that the arrival of Denmark's soldiers had "taken place without its consent" and without legal basis.
The Takuba task force issued a statement on Wednesday expressing “deep regret” about Mali's stance.
The military junta has been in power since an August 2020 coup overthrew the government led by former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.
The Danish Foreign Ministry earlier had said that Keita had requested that Denmark send troops to join the Takuba effort in 2019 before he was deposed.
The Takuba operation has also called on Mali's leaders to "respect the solid grounds on which our diplomatic and operational cooperation are based.”
After seizing power, Goita initially pledged to uphold Mali’s international agreements but recently has shown signs of reluctance.
In the past 18 months, the junta has solidified control -- at one point even temporarily grounding UN peacekeeping flights -- and has delayed new democratic elections until at least 2024.
European nations have also expressed concern about the presence of military officials in Mali from the Russia-backed Wagner Group.
"This group’s methods are incompatible with our collective efforts on security and development," said EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell.
Borrell underlined that the bloc is ready to impose sanctions on anyone interfering transition to civilian rule in Mali.
Last month, the EU slapped sanctions on eight people and three oil companies linked to Wagner, which is accused of rights abuses in the Central African Republic, Libya, and Syria.
Relations between Mali and France -- which has been militarily engaged in the Sahel since 2013 -- have deteriorated severely in particular.
Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Sweden are all participating in the Takuba task force -- intended as a successor to France's previous counter-terrorism forces.
Minister Kofod said on Thursday that Denmark will “continue the good and close cooperation with our European allies” and keep the pressure on Mali’s rulers “to get democracy back, to create safety for the population in Mali, to fight the terror groups.”