Mali’s army-dominated government on January 12 condemned what it called a “clear breach” of its airspace by a French military aircraft this week, warning of potential consequences should such practices continue.
Malian government spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga stated that a complaint had been issued to France after one of its military planes travelled between Ivory Coast’s capital Abidjan and the northern Malian city of Gao on January 11.
The flight was a “clear breach” of Malian airspace, the statement said, given the closure of most of the country’s land and air borders due to regional sanctions recently imposed on the Sahel state.
The French military plane had also switched off its transponder, preventing it from communicating with Malian aviation authorities, according to the statement.
It added that the government would “refuse all responsibility for the risks to which the perpetrators of these practices may be exposed in the event of a further violation of our airspace”.
But a French military official, who declined to be named, denied the Malian government’s claims, saying that the plane’s transponder had been switched to “military mode”.
“All procedures were respected,” the official said, adding that Malian authorities had also approved the aircraft’s flight plan.
On January 9, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed to shutter land and air borders with Mali and impose a trade embargo over delayed elections.
The sanctions – which France has backed – came after Mali’s army-dominated government last month proposed staying in power for up to five years before restoring democracy.
Mali’s junta, following a military takeover in August 2020, had previously promised to hold elections on February 27.
In response to the regional sanctions, Mali also announced that it was closing its borders with ECOWAS members – with the exception of military-run Guinea, which is not applying the measures.
On January 11, West African air-traffic agency ASECNA informed Mali that its airspace had been breached by a French military plane.
However, French army spokesman Pascal Ianni said that “the closure of the borders does not concern military flights”.
France has thousands of troops in Mali and neighbouring Sahel countries as part of an anti-jihadist force.
Its relations with Mali, a former colonial possession, have deteriorated sharpy since the 2020 military takeover.