France will maintain its military presence in Mali, visiting French Defence Minister Florence Parly said here on Monday, following a meeting with her Malian counterpart, Colonel Sadio Camara.

“France will not leave Mali and remains determined in the fight against terrorism,” she said, referring to her visit as part of the move to strengthen military cooperation between the two countries, Xinhua news agency reported.

“For the past eight years, France has chosen, at the request of the Malian authorities, to accompany Mali in the fight against armed terrorist groups. France has chosen to suffer and unite its partners around a common vision with and for Mali,” said Parly.

It is time to “evolve the system by increasing cooperation” to help the restructuring of the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa), she said, adding that it is “imperative today to reinsure FAMa of the air support provided from France and its partners.”

Her visit came at a time of great controversy about a possible contract between Mali and the Russian group Wagner which stipulates that 1,000 Russian mercenaries should soon be deployed in the country.

France and Germany have warned that a deployment of paramilitaries of the Russian group would call into question their military engagement in Mali.

Since 2012, Mali has been facing a severe crisis in terms of security, politics and economy. The independence uprisings, the jihadist incursions and the inter-communal violence have caused thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of displaced, despite the presence of the UN, French and European task forces.

–IANS

int/shs

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