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Macron says closure of French bases in Mali to begin soon

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a joint press conference with Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum following a video summit with leaders of G5 Sahel countries, at the Elysee presidential Palace, in Paris, France July 9, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

French’s President Emmanuel Macron says France would begin the process of shutting its bases in northern Mali later this year.

"The shutdowns of these sections will start in the second half of 2021 and be completed by early 2022," Macron said at a press conference following a virtual summit with leaders of Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania that make up the G5 Sahel region on Friday.

Mali has become increasingly engulfed in violence since a Tuareg uprising in 2012 was hijacked by extremist militants, prompting France to intervene under the pretext to push them back.

The French mission began operating in Mali in 2013 to allegedly counter militants that Paris claims are linked to the al-Qaeda and Daesh terrorist groups.

Some observers have, however, cited suspicions about the actual goal sought by Paris inside the former colony, which boasts rich mineral reserves.

Macron on Friday said the closure of French bases in the Malian regions of Kidal, Tessalit and Timbuktu comes as part of the reconfiguration of French military presence in the Sahel region, citing shift in alleged threat to the south.

He added that France would later halve its military presence in the region.

"This reconfiguration will begin in the coming weeks. In line with the shift in threat to the south, it will mean a reduction in our military footprint primarily in the north (of the Sahel)," Macron said.

France will still have "2,500 to 3,000" soldiers in the Sahel after the drawdown, he said but gave no timeframe.

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