Francophone West Africa’s regional aviation authority has accused a French military plane of violating sanctions imposed by West African states against Mali by flying into the country from neighbouring Ivory Coast.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the regional monetary union sanctioned Mali on Sunday after its interim government, installed in the wake of coups in 2020 and 2021, proposed delaying planned elections by up to four years.
Member states pledged to close air and land borders and cut off Mali’s access to regional financial markets.
Former colonial power France has thousands of troops in West Africa, many of them in Mali, as part of a mission to combat violence by Islamist militant groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.
France’s Armed Force Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the reported flight incident. The French government has strongly backed the sanctions.
A French military source told Reuters on Wednesday that the ECOWAS sanctions had had no impact on French military operations as they were exempt from the measures.
“What has been reported by the agency is unfounded. The sanctions adopted by ECOWAS do not concern anything related to military operations. That is a point shared by Niger, all regional countries and ECOWAS,” the source said.
The French plane travelled from Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Abidjan to the northern Malian city of Gao and back on Tuesday, according to a letter from the Agency for Aviation Security and Navigation in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA).
The flight was deemed “non-compliant” with the suspension of flights from ECOWAS member states, ASECNA’s representative to Mali said in the letter addressed to Mali’s aviation director.
A source at ASECNA, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters the pilot switched off his radio after air traffic controllers notified him that Mali’s airspace was closed to flights coming from ECOWAS countries.