US says Russia’s Wagner force eyes Mali as route for war supplies

Russian mercenary force said to be willing to falsify paperwork to use Mali as transit point for Ukraine war equipment.

Russia’s Wagner mercenary force has attempted to hide efforts to obtain military equipment internationally for use in the war in Ukraine and is seeking to transit such supplies through Mali, the United States State Department said.

The private mercenary force, which is fighting alongside Russian troops in Ukraine, is willing to use false paperwork to ship military equipment through Mali, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters at a news briefing on Monday.

“We have been informed that Wagner is seeking to transit material acquisitions to aid Russia’s war through Mali and is willing to use false paperwork for these transactions,” Miller said.

“In fact, there are indications that Wagner has been attempting to purchase military systems from foreign suppliers, and route these weapons through Mali as a third party,” he said.

“We have not seen, as of yet, any indications that these acquisitions have been finalised or executed, but we are monitoring the situation closely.”

Miller added that the US has imposed sanctions on people and entities “across multiple continents” who have been found to “support Wagner’s military operations”, and Washington would have more to say soon on the attempt to ship equipment through Mali.

Earlier this month, the French parliament adopted a resolution calling on the European Union to formally declare the Wagner mercenary force a “terror group”, a move that followed after the US declared Wagner a “transnational criminal organisation” in January.

Wagner and its entrepreneur owner Yevgeny Prigozhin have been repeatedly sanctioned by the US and EU for human rights abuses in Africa and for participating in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Western countries have also raised concerns over the activities of Wagner mercenaries in Mali.

Earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Office announced that a fact-finding report had concluded that there were “strong indications” that more than 500 people were killed in Mali by Malian troops and foreign military personnel — believed to be from Wagner — during an operation in March 2022 that took place over five days in Moura village in the country’s central Mopti region.  Most of those killed were executed, the UN said.

“Witnesses reported seeing ‘armed white men’ who spoke an unknown language operating alongside the Malian forces and at times appearing to supervise operations,” the UN said in a statement.

“According to witnesses, Malian troops were rotated in and out of Moura daily, but the foreign personnel remained for the duration of the operation,” the UN said.

The UN said that at least 58 women and girls were raped or subjected to other forms of sexual violence during the operation.

“These are extremely disturbing findings,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in the statement.

“Summary executions, rape and torture during armed conflict amount to war crimes and could, depending on the circumstances, amount to crimes against humanity,” Turk said.

Mali’s military rulers and Russia have previously maintained that Wagner personnel in Mali are no mercenaries but trainers helping local troops with military equipment purchased from Russia.

Source: Al Jazeera