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France, Mali suspend issuing visas to each other's citizens amid boiling tensions  

Malian riot police keep supporters away from the vehicle of new president of Mali's transitional government Assimi Goita, on May 31, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

France and Mali have suspended issuing visas to each other's citizens, in a heightening of a row that has already prompted a French military withdrawal from the West African nation. 

Diplomats said Thursday that Mali had indefinitely suspended the issuance of visas to French nationals.

Mali’s junta responded by freezing new visas for French citizens at its embassy in Paris in an act of “reciprocity”, the Malian foreign ministry said.

It said the move was reciprocal after it “learned, with surprise" through the press that the French Foreign Ministry classified Mali in the “red zone” on the grounds of “strong regional tensions.”

The statement also said that France had suspended the issuance of visas and closed the visa center at its embassy in Bamako, the capital of Mali.

The ministry said that these measures were “unilateral” and “unjustified” and that they affected the bilateral relations between the two countries.

France earlier this week also issued a travel guidance update advising that "in the current context of strong regional tensions, all travel to Mali is strongly not advised.

The “strong regional tensions” that France cited are related to the situation in Niger, where the military overthrew the elected President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26.

The regional bloc ECOWAS condemned the coup and threatened to intervene militarily to restore constitutional order in Niger.

However, Mali and Burkina Faso, two neighboring countries of Niger, expressed their support for the coup leaders. They said that they would stand with Niger against any foreign interference. Mali and Burkina Faso are both facing security challenges from militants and ethnic conflicts.

Anti-French sentiment on rise in West Africa

France and Mali fell out after the military seized power in Bamako in 2020, ousting President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita over failures to stem a deadly militancy and insurgency.

As the dispute escalated and the military brought in Russian paramilitaries to fight the ongoing militancy, France began to pull out its force, under a phased withdrawal that ended last year.

French troops withdrew from Mali in 2022 and Burkina Faso in 2023 following military coups. New leadership in Niger could lead to another withdrawal from a country France saw as a key ally in the Sahel. 

France has between 1,000 and 1,500 troops in Niger to fight the so-called war on terrorism. In Niger, there are not only French forces but American and European soldiers as well. Burkina Faso and Mali have already kicked out French troops, many of whom are now stationed in Niger.

The developments come amid a growing wave of anti-French sentiment across the Sahel region, with locals saying they want the former colonial ruler to stop interfering in their affairs.

Observers say resentment towards France seems to be coming to a boiling point in Mali, Burkina Faso and now Niger.

France has a long history in West Africa, where it was a colonial power until 1960. Since independence, France has maintained a military presence in the region, which has caused long-term tensions that now seem to be reaching new heights.

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