Mali accuses France of colluding with Islamic extremists

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BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali’s foreign minister is accusing France of having colluded with the same Islamic extremists that it spent nearly a decade fighting until its troops departed earlier this week, an allegation sharply denied by the French government.

The inflammatory letter sent to the president of the U.N. Security Council is the latest effort to undermine support for France, Mali’s former colonizer, at a time when some fear the French military departure could pave the way for militants to intensify their attacks.

The last French troops from Operation Barkhane left Mali on Monday after relations sharply deteriorated with the Malian junta leader who seized power two years ago.

“The government of Mali has several pieces of evidence that these flagrant violations of Malian airspace have been used by France to gather intelligence for terrorist groups operating in the Sahel and to drop arms and ammunition to them,” Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop wrote in his letter to the U.N.

Mali’s government asked the U.N. to “work to ensure that the French Republic immediately ceases its acts of aggression against Mali.”

The French Embassy in Mali vigorously denied the allegations in a tweet posted Wednesday.

“France has obviously never supported, directly or indirectly, these terrorist groups, which remain its designated enemies around the planet,” the embassy tweeted.

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The French military declined to comment on the Malian foreign minister’s letter, calling it “a diplomatic and political issue.”

In 2013, France led a military operation to oust Islamic extremists from the major towns across northern Mali where the militants had seized power and begun imposing harsh penalties on civilians who violated their strict interpretation of Islamic law known as Shariah.

When French troops liberated the northern towns, they were welcomed by many Malians waving hand-sewn French flags.

The extremists, though, regrouped in surrounding desert areas and continued carrying out attacks against the Malian military and U.N. peacekeepers trying to stabilize the country. The extremists’ violence has increased and spread further south near the capital city. Frustration with the attacks helped fuel support for the coup leader who overthrew Mali’s democratically elected president two years ago.

Anti-French sentiment also has risen amid the unrelenting attacks. Earlier this year, France announced that it would be pulling its troops from Mali as part of a military reorganization in the region. The French Embassy in Bamako said Wednesday that 53 French soldiers had been killed during the country’s nine-year military presence.

“Their mission was above all to fight against terrorist groups, and in doing so, to improve the security of Malians,” it tweeted.

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Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations; Angela Charlton in Paris; and Barbara Surk in Nice, France contributed.

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