France's ex-president Hollande: Wagner Group operating as ‘neo-colonialists’ in Mali

France's former president François Hollande granted an interview to FRANCE 24 and RFI on Wednesday, some 10 years after launching Operation Serval, which ousted armed rebels and Islamist militants from northern Mali. Hollande defended the record of French military operations in the Sahel region and expressed regret at the arrival of mercenaries from the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group.

Ten years after the January 2013 launch of France's Operation Serval, which was followed by the wider Operation Barkhane across the Sahel region, French troops have left Mali. Former president François Hollande said he was saddened to see that the Wagner Group of Russian mercenaries "managed to convince part of the [Malian] population that they would protect them better" from jihadists than France would.

"They (Wagner) are the neo-colonialists," he said.

Mali security has worsened

Hollande said the Wagner Group had failed to make Mali any safer. Since the arrival of the mercenaries, the security situation is "worse", he said, adding that jihadists have extended their attacks to southern and central Mali, where they were not previously present.

It is up to a country's government to determine its fate, he added.

Delicate relations with Chad

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