By Robin Emmott and John Irish
BRUSSELS/PARIS (Reuters) – The European Union has agreed to impose travel bans and asset freezes on five members of Mali’s junta after the military rulers went back on an agreement to organise elections in February, three diplomats said.
The measures, which have political support of all 27 EU governments and should take effect later this month, follow a raft of restrictions against Mali by the ECOWAS grouping of West African states that has condemned the transitional military government’s attempts to extend its rule.
The bloc is struggling to stabilise the broader Sahel region after a series of coups in Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso, despite military support, high-level political attention and development aid. As Islamist militants grow in strength, local sentiment has hardened against European involvement.
The names of the five individuals to be sanctioned were not immediately available. The diplomats said they were junta officials also targeted by ECOWAS. Mali’s foreign and defence ministers will not be targeted in order to keep diplomatic channels open, the diplomats said.
The EU travel bans and asset freezes are unlikely to have an immediate impact on the junta in Bamako but seek to make good on the bloc’s promise to support ECOWAS, even if the measures are more limited than those of the regional bloc.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday that Mali’s junta was “illegitimate” amid escalating tensions between the West African state and its European partners following two coups.
That prompted Mali to expel France’s ambassador on Monday, giving him 72 hours to leave, and marking a low in relations after the junta went back on its agreement to organise elections in February. It proposes holding power until 2025.
The junta has also deployed Russian private military contractors, which some European countries have said is incompatible with their mission.
France’s government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Tuesday that Paris was consulting with its partners to re-adapt its strategy in the region within two weeks. “What’s certain is things can’t stay the way they are,” he told Franceinfo radio.
Mali last week asked Denmark to withdraw its troops belonging to a European task force in the country. France asked Mali to let the Danish troops stay, and Mali’s government spokesman told France to keep its “colonial reflexes” to itself.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott, Editing by William Maclean)