Mali on Tuesday accused the French army of “espionage” and “subversion” when it used a drone to film what France said were mercenaries burying bodies near a military base.
The drone “illegally” flew over the Gossi base on April 20, the day after French forces returned the site to Mali, the junta said in a statement.
The next day, the French military shared a video it said showed Russian mercenaries covering bodies with sand to falsely accuse departing troops of war crimes. Two soldiers could be seen filming the half-buried corpses.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Malian army announced an investigation into the discovery of a mass grave at the Gossi base.
The army said it found the grave the day after the images were released and claimed that the bodies’ advanced state of putrefaction ruled out the responsibility of Malian soldiers.
He later accused France of spying and trying to smear the reputation of Malian forces with the drone video.
“This drone was present (…) to spy on our brave FAMa (Malian armed forces),” government spokesman Abdoulaye Maiga said.
“In addition to espionage, the French forces were guilty of subversion by publishing false images set up to accuse the FAMa of responsibility for the murder of civilians, with the aim of tarnishing their image.”
Bamako said “foreign aircraft, notably operated by French forces” had deliberately violated Malian airspace more than 50 times since the start of the year.
France, the former colonial power in Mali, is ending its nearly decade-long anti-jihadist military operation in the West African state.
But in February he decided to withdraw his troops after falling out with the military junta, particularly over its rapprochement with the Kremlin.
France and the United States have accused mercenaries from the Kremlin-linked security firm Wagner of deploying to Mali, where the junta says the Russians are just military instructors helping to restore order.
Large swathes of Mali are beyond government control due to the jihadist insurgency, which began in 2012 before spreading three years later to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
The impoverished and landlocked Sahel state has been ruled by a military junta since an August 2020 coup, which was propelled by protests over the government’s handling of the war against jihadists.
The conflict is said to have killed thousands of soldiers and civilians and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.
The junta initially promised to restore civilian rule, but failed to deliver on its earlier commitment to the West African bloc ECOWAS to hold elections in February this year, leading to regional sanctions.