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    Mali Defends Russian Ties and Opposes Options for UN Force

    Mali Defends Russian Ties and Opposes Options for UN Force

    UNITED (AP) — Mali's foreign minister defended the government's cooperation with on Friday and rejected three options proposed by the U.N. chief to reconfigure the U.N. peacekeeping force in the west African country where Al-Qaida and Islamic State extremist groups are driving insecurity.

    Abdoulaye Diop told the U.N. Security Council that security is the country's top priority and Mali will not continue to justify its partnership with Russia, which is providing training and equipment to the military. He did not mention Russia's Wagner Group, the private military contractor with ties to the Kremlin.

    But Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' internal review released this week of the 17,500-strong U.N. mission, known as MINUSMA, noted that Mali's longstanding security partnership with and others deteriorated over concerns about Wagner Group personnel operating in support of the Malian armed forces, which he said Russian officials have publicly acknowledged.

    U.S. deputy ambassador Richard Mills said the United States welcomes the U.N.'s acknowledgement in the internal review of the Wagner Group's presence in Mali.

    He called Wagner “a criminal organization that is committing widespread atrocities and human rights abuses in Mali and elsewhere.” The U.S. has slapped several waves of sanctions on Wagner and its owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a rogue millionaire with longtime…

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