EU foreign policy chief warns Mali against Russian mercenary deal

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Josep Borrell holds a press conference after a meeting of E.U. Foreign Ministers on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly, in New York, U.S., September 20, 2021. REUTERS/David 'Dee' Delgado

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NEW YORK, Sept 20 (Reuters) - European Union ties with Mali could be seriously affected if it allows Russian private military contractors to operate in the country, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned on Monday.

Diplomatic and security sources told Reuters that Mali's one-year-old military junta is close to recruiting the Wagner Group to supply mercenaries to train Mali's military and protect senior officials. read more

France has launched a diplomatic drive to thwart the move. Paris says it would be "incompatible" with a continued French presence. read more

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European Union foreign ministers discussed the issue on Monday during a closed-door meeting on the sidelines of the annual gathering of world leaders for the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

"This certainly could seriously affect European Union relations with Mali," Borrell told reporters after the meeting.

"We already know the Wagner Group and the way they have been behaving in different parts of the world. And certainly this would not help ... our relations with the Mali government," Borrell said.

West Africa's main political bloc, ECOWAS, as well as other allies combating militants in the Sahel region, have also expressed concerns over the potential deal.

Mali's military junta has said it will oversee a transition to democracy leading to elections in February 2022.

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Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Richard Pullin

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