Mali's government has denied any deployment of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group following charges by a group of 15 Western powers involved in the fight against jihadists in the Sahel country.
The government "gives a formal denial to these baseless allegations" of "an alleged deployment of elements from a private security company in Mali," it said in a statement released late Friday.
Mali's government "demands that proof be brought to it by independent sources" and said "Russian trainers" were in Mali as part of strengthening the operational capacity of the national defence and security forces.
Bamako was "only involved in a state-to-state partnership with the Russian Federation, its historical partner", said the statement signed by government spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga.
A group of 16 Western powers, in a joint statement on Thursday, expressed anger that Russian mercenaries working for the controversial Wagner group had started to deploy in Mali, accusing Moscow of providing material backing for the fighters.
The nations involved in the fight against a jihadist insurgency in Mali, including Canada, Germany, France and Britain, said they "firmly condemn the deployment of mercenary troops on Malian territory".
"We are aware of the involvement of the Russian Federation government in providing material support to the deployment of the Wagner group in Mali and call on Russia to revert to a responsible and constructive behaviour in the region," they said.
It was one of the first official acknowledgements by Western capitals that the deployment of fighters has begun in Mali after months of warnings to the Bamako government.