Senegal's army, drawn into politics, says it will maintain its numbers in Mali

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The Senegalese army, one of the main contributors of soldiers and police to the UN force in neighbouring Mali, has assured that it will maintain its level of participation in the Minusma, responding to the main Senegalese opponent and declared presidential candidate.

The Senegalese battalion based in Sévaré (central Mali) began its rotation this week, the Minusma reported on social networks.

Senegal's main opposition figure, Ousmane Sonko, used Mali to attack President Macky Sall and France on Thursday when he announced his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election. He also expressed strong support for the head of the Malian junta, Colonel Assimi Goïta.

"We saw that Macky Sall repatriated the few Senegalese elements who were there because they were not there as Senegalese, they were there because France had asked him to bring troops," Sonko said.

If he is elected, "we will send troops to support our Malian brothers and put an end to this gangrene," Sonko added, referring to the jihadist spread that has plagued Mali since 2012, which has spread to its neighbours in Burkina Faso and Niger and is worrying the entire sub-region.

Senegal has in fact proceeded, like others, to a "periodic rotation", wrote the staff in a statement issued on Thursday night to Friday.

"Contrary to some information given in the press, Senegal has not disengaged from Mali," it said. This week's rotation is "a normal operation to replace, the number for number, the troops engaged" by Senegal "from the first hours of the crisis," he said.

Senegal has 1,300 soldiers, gendarmes and police officers in the Minusma, he said. The Minusma has about 17,500 men and women, including more than 13,000 soldiers and police.

Ousmane Sonko also said he "encouraged President Assimi Goïta because he has not lost face".

Colonel Goïta took and strengthened his power through two coups in 2020 and 2021, with the declared project of turning the country around and restoring security. Under his leadership, Mali has turned away from France and its former allies, and toward Russia.

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