France's Barkhane military operation commander rejects claims made by Malian Prime Minister Choguel Maiga. On Saturday, Maiga had accused France of abandoning the conflict-torn country with its decision to draw down troops this year.
"The plan to leave Tessalit, Kidal and Timbuktu dates back about two years, eighteen months, two years. It was drawn up with the G5 heads of state, notably in Bamako and Niamey" stressed General Laurent Michon.
Speaking in Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, General Laurent Michon, rejected the term abandonment employed by Maiga during his address to the General Assembly to describe the "restructuring" of France's military presence in the Sahel.
" The fact that we are withdrawing our symbolic presence from these three garrisons, this is absolutely not an abandonment; it is a change of position, in military terms we call it a change of position. In these three places, in these three garrisons, MINUSMA units and above all those of the FAMA (Malian Armed Forces) are firmly established and this is in no way an abandonment," he added."
Mali is close to sealing a deal with a Russian company, the Wagner Group, to hire mercenaries to help fight Islamist insurgents.
France has warned Mali that hiring the fighters from the Russian security firm would isolate the country internationally, and be incompatible with continued French presence there.