Paris (CNSNews.com) – A decision by the military junta ruling Burkina Faso to expel French troops from the country was welcomed on Monday by an anti-France movement, after several thousand people demonstrated in support of the move, at a rally where Russian flags were waved.
France says it will withdraw its 400 special forces soldiers, who are in the West African country to train local armed forces and help them in their fight against a jihadist insurgency in the east of the former French colony.
Apollain Aimé of the nationalist movement M30 welcomed the junta’s decision.
“We want to radically and immediately remove whatever links France has to our administration because we cannot understand that there are plenty of unemployed Burkinabe and yet we have more than 500 French people in our administration,” he told local reporters. “They occupy the place that Burkinabe should have.”
Last week, the junta officially notified France that it should withdraw its soldiers.
“What we are denouncing is an agreement [reached in 2018] which allows French forces to be present in Burkina Faso,” said government spokesman Jean Emmanuel Ouédraogo.
Earlier this month the junta announced that it wanted Paris to recall Ambassador Luc Hallade, who had drawn criticism over public comments about the poor security situation in the country.
France has now recalled Hallade for “consultations on the state and prospects of our bilateral cooperation.”
Last week, demonstrators gathered in Ouagadougou to support the junta which seized power last September, and protest the French presence. Flags of Burkina Faso and Russia were waved during the rally, a sign of Moscow’s growing influence in the region.
The junta recently expressed a desire to diversify partnerships, especially in the fight against jihadist violence that has been undermining the country since 2015. Russia and the pro-Kremlin private contractor Wagner Group are among the new partners being sought.
“We believe that our partnership [with Russia] must be strengthened,” Burkina Faso prime minister Apollinaire Kyélem de Tembela told reporters last week, after meeting with Russian Ambassador Alexey Saltykov.
Tembela last month paid a discreet visit to Moscow to explore closer relations.
The Wagner Group is active in Russia’s war in Ukraine, and has also previously fought in Syria and Libya. It is increasingly deploying its mercenaries in Africa, especially in five Sahel countries fighting against jihadist terrorists linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS.
France had first deployed thousands of soldiers to the five countries – Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad – in 2014 to help in the anti-jihadist campaign. At its peak, Operation Barkhane had 3,000 French soldiers headquartered in Mali’s capital, N’Djamena.
President Emmanuel Macron in mid-2021 said the operation would give way to a more multinational effort. French troops were withdrawn last year from Mali, which turned to Russia for help, opening the door for the Wagner Group.
The growing Russian influence in the region is military, economic and diplomatic. In the Central African Republic and Mali, the Wagner Group deployed to help fight jihadists, but then expanded its activities into the economic sphere.
U.N. rights experts have accused the mercenaries of abusing human rights, alleging a pattern of intimidation, arbitrary detention, assault, rape and sexual violence.
“Sub-Saharan Africa has often relied on private military companies due to weak government institutions in some countries and the need to protect mining sites,” the Belgium-based Group for Research and Information on Peace and Security (GRIP) wrote in a report last year.
“But the presence and role of the Wagner group is nevertheless opaque, has no legal framework, and raises many questions,” said the report’s author, Amandine Dusoulier.
Michel Graly, professor of geopolitics at the International School in Paris, told France Info TV that as it loses its influence in Africa, France opens the door for countries such as Russia to enter.
Graly said Russia was trying to do the same thing in Africa as it is doing in Ukraine.
“Moscow is trying to conquer Ukraine in a war that involves, according to some E.U. reports, mercenaries from the Wagner Group,” he said. “In Africa, Russia is taking advantage of anti-French resentment and the failure in the fight against Islamic terror in the Sahel region to increase its influence in the continent. Russia started with the Central African Republic, Mali, and now is in Burkina Faso.”
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