By John Ikani
Mali on Monday expelled the French Ambassador in the country after “hostile and outrageous” comments by former colonial power France about its transitional government, it said in a statement read on national television.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday that Mali’s junta was “out of control” amid escalating tensions between the West African state and its European partners following two coups. He also called the junta illegitimate.
“The government of the Republic of Mali informs the national and international public that today… the ambassador of France in Bamako, his excellency Joel Meyer… was notified of the decision of the government asking him to leave the national territory within 72 hours,” a statement read over state television said.
The ultimatum comes barely one week after Mali severed diplomatic ties with France, announcing a change to its official language from French to Bambara, and ordering French troops to evacuate its territory, according to a recent communique.
Bilateral relations between France and Mali’s interim authorities have deteriorated in recent weeks over the military’s proposal to delay a transition to democracy following two successive coups in the last 17 months.
Last week, the French Foreign Minister told reporters that Mali’s junta was “illegitimate” and its decisions “irresponsible.”
Defence Minister Florence Parly accused the country’s rulers of stepping up “provocations” of France.
Monday’s statement said remarks had been made that were “hostile and outrageous,” and had been uttered, “despite repeated protests” by Mali.
“The Malian government vigorously condemns and rejects these remarks, which are contrary to the development of friendly relations between nations,” it said.
However, it added, the Malian government “reiterates its readiness to maintain dialogue and pursue cooperation with all its international partners, including France, in mutual respect and on the basis of the cardinal principle of non-interference.”
Tensions have also risen since the West Africa bloc ECOWAS imposed a trade embargo and border closures this month, in a move backed by France, the United States and the European Union.
The sanctions followed a junta proposal to stay in power for up to five years before staging elections, despite an earlier commitment to hold a vote by the end of February 2022.
Rebel officers led a coup in August 2020 that toppled Mali’s elected leader Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was facing angry protests at failures to stem the jihadists.