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Mali youth back deployment of Russian fighters as France issues warning

Protestors carry Russian flags at a rally to support Mali's junta in May, 2021   -  
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Malian collective 'Yerewolo' on Wednesday hailed a rumored deal between Mali and Russian mercenary group Wagner, a private security contractor which has also deployed in the Central African Republic.

"If Wagner went to liberate Syria, if Wagner went to liberate the Central African Republic, then we welcome Wagner to Bamako to liberate Mali. To the asymmetric war, we propose an asymmetric solution, which is called Wagner. This is the truth and today it is the end of French Africa," said Adama Ben Diarra, the spokesperson for 'Yerewolo' collective. 

Former colonial rulers France and Germany have warned the West African country against a deal with the group, amid claims that it is close to hiring 1,000 mercenaries. 

Germany warned Mali on Wednesday that a deal with Russian private security group Wagner would "call into question" its deployment in the West African country as part of United Nations and European Union missions.

"If Mali's government makes such a deal with Russia, then it goes against everything that Germany, France, the EU and the UN have been doing in Mali over the last eight years," wrote Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on Twitter.

French sources told AFP this week that the Malian government was nearing a deal with Wagner to hire nearly 1,000 mercenaries, an agreement that would underscore Moscow's growing influence in the region.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly on Tuesday warned Mali against signing a contract with Wagner, saying it would be "incoherent with everything we have done" in the Sahel region.

A spokesperson for the Malian defence ministry has not denied the discussions, which were first reported by Reuters news agency on Monday.

"Mali intends to diversify its relationships in the medium term to ensure the security of the country," the spokesperson told AFP.

**Growing anti-French sentiment in Mali **

In May, protestors rallied in central Bamako to show support for junta leader Col. Assimi Goita waving Russian flags and chanting anti-French slogans. 

In June, Paris ended military cooperation with the country before reversing the decision a month later. 

Many in Mali say the country's colonial master, which has deployed thousands of troops to fight armed groups since 2013, has no intention to defeat the insurgents but to continue to occupy and exploit the country. 

Wagner security has deployed in the Central African Republic, undermining French influence there.

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