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Czechia refuses to withdraw soldiers from Mali but fears grow about the EU’s training mission

In mid-August, rebellious Malian soldiers seized power in the country and installed a military junta

editor: REMIX NEWS
author: Alex Švamberk, Novinky, Czech News Agency

The Czech soldiers who are on a European Union training mission in Mali are safe, Magdalena Dvořáková, the head of the communication department of the Czech General Staff, said on Monday in response to political upheaval that is engulfing the country.

In mid-August, rebellious Malian soldiers seized power in the country after capturing President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, who resigned shortly afterward.

“Our soldiers are fine,” said Dvořáková, but it is not yet clear what the future of the mission will be.

“It is an EU mission, so the EU must be the one to decide,” she added.

As for the deployment of foreign troops in Mali, German Chancellor Angela Merkel assured last Wednesday that the current situation in the country will not affect the peacekeeping mission.

Czech defense minister refuses to withdraw Czech troops from Mali

According to the Czech Minister of Defense Lubomír Metnar, the unilateral withdrawal of Czech soldiers from the military training mission in Mali would disrupt the unified approach of the European Union. He noted that the EU is not currently considering ending the training mission, adding that the mission has a valid invitation from Mali, which is not dependent on a particular government.

The ministry is constantly evaluating the situation and Metnar emphasized that the safety of soldiers is a top priority.

“However, the EU is not currently considering ending its EUTM training mission in Mali. The mission has a valid invitation to operate in the country, which does not depend on the specific government,” he noted. A similar approach is envisaged for the parallel UN mission MINUSMA.

“By unilateral withdrawal, we would undermine the EU’s unified approach. Given our current role in commanding EUTM forces, we would also endanger the troops of other states and significantly damage the prestige of the Czech Republic in the eyes of European partners,“ he stressed.

“The presence of an EU training mission in Mali also makes it possible to put pressure for a speedy return to civilian democratic government under the constitution,” he added.

Czech general in command of the mission

On June 12, Czech Brigadier General František Ridzák took command of the EUTM training mission. He now commands more than 700 soldiers from two dozen countries who help build up the Malian army and train it to fight Islamic radicals.

There are currently 120 Czech soldiers in Mali. The core of the unit consists of a group of 40 members of the Czech Ministry of Defense, who are in charge of training soldiers.

The 3rd Task Force of the Army of the Czech Republic, led by Captain Jan Mikláš, is also active in the country as it is in charge of protecting the headquarters of the EUTM training mission in Bamako and protecting the Koulikoro training base, located 60 kilometers from the capital.

Negotiations with the insurgents

A delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) led by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan arrived in Bamako over the weekend to enter discussions with the military junta led by Colonel Assimi Goita about the direction of the country after the coup.

“The junta has confirmed that it wants a three-year transition period to restore the foundations of the Malian state. This transition will be managed by a body led by a soldier, who will also be the head of state,“ a source from the delegation told AFP. He added that the government will be composed mainly of soldiers.

A junta spokesman, Colonel Ismael Wague, added: “We have reached a compromise on certain aspects and the negotiations will continue.” However, he did not say what the compromise was about.

According to AFP, the government has agreed to release ousted President Keïta, who could return to his home in Bamako.

“If he wants to go abroad for treatment, it’s not a problem,” a source from ECOWAS told AFP. Prime Minister Boubou Cissé should be transferred to a guarded residence. Jonathan added that the agreement is only partial: “We were able to agree on a few points, but not yet on all of them.”

Demonstrations have been taking place against Keit’s government in the country for several months. The opposition questions Keita’s party’s victory in the spring elections. Many people are also dissatisfied that the government is unable to cope with the growing influence of armed Islamists in the north and central parts of the country.

Title image: Security forces and others in celebration drive through the streets of the capital Bamako, Mali, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, a day after armed soldiers fired into the air outside President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s home and took him into their custody. African and Western leaders condemned on Wednesday the junta that forced Mali’s president from power, warning the coup was a deep setback for the West African nation that could threaten the battle against Islamic extremism. (AP Photo)