Germany suspends part of Mali military mission over flight spat

BERLIN, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Germany suspended its military reconnaissance mission in Mali after local authorities again withheld a flight clearance, a spokesperson for the defence ministry in Berlin said on Friday.

Berlin has deployed some 1,000 troops to Mali, most of them near the northern town of Gao where their main task is to gather reconnaissance for the U.N. peacekeeping mission MINUSMA.

MINUSMA - the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali - was established in 2013 to support foreign and local troops battling Islamist militants, but in recent months there have been repeated instances of tensions between the Malian authorities and the mission.

"We will, at least for the time being, suspend the reconnaissance part of mission," the spokesperson said, adding that Malian authorities had not issued the clearance for a flight to rotate some staff.

At the start of August, Mali had already withdrawn clearances for German flights over the country, but later reversed that decision.

The junta that seized power in Bamako in 2020 also temporarily suspended MINUSMA troop rotations in July, days after the arrest of 49 soldiers from Ivory Coast who authorities said had arrived in the country without permission. read more

A German soldier from the UN contingent MINUSMA stands during a visit of German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen to Camp Castor in Gao, Mali, April 5, 2016. REUTERS/Michael Kappeler/Pool

German government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said Berlin was closely coordinating with its international partners and remained prepared to participate in the U.N. peacekeeping mission.

"But this only makes sense if it has the backing of the Malian government," he warned.

The mission has been controversial for some time in Germany as the West African country has deepened its Soviet-era ties to Russia and fighters from the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-linked private military company, have been supporting the Malian army in its fight since late last year.

In Mali, tensions with the nearly 12,000-member MINUSMA force have grown over U.N. calls to allow freedom of movement for peacekeepers to investigate human rights abuses, which the government has refused.

France announced in February it was pulling its troops out of Mali after nearly a decade there fighting insurgents.

Mali is struggling to stem an Islamist insurgency that took root after a 2012 uprising and has since spread to neighbouring countries, killing thousands and displacing millions across West Africa's Sahel region.

Reporting by Paul Carrel Writing by Sabine Siebold Editing by Rachel More and Frances Kerry

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