Malians cheer as Mali military personnel enter the streets of Bamako, Mali, on Aug. 18, 2020. Sixteen countries, including France, Canada and Britain, signed a statement Thursday condemning the deployment of the Wagner group, a Russian paramilitary organization, in the west African country. File Photo by Moussa Kalapo/EPA-EFE
Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Sixteen countries, including France, Canada and Britain, issued a statement to "firmly condemn the deployment" of Russian paramilitary troops in the west African country Mali.
The statement, published by France and signed by 14 other European countries and Canada, said the signatories 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 behavior in the region."
The Wagner group, controlled by Yegveny Prigozhin, a political ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has previously been deployed to Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Mozambique and the Central African Republic.
"We deeply regret the choice of the Malian transitional authorities to use already scarce public funds to pay foreign mercenaries instead of supporting the Malian Armed Forces and public services to the benefit of the Malian people," the statement said.
The statement's signatories also included Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania and Sweden.
The European Union imposed sanctions last week against Wagner, eight associated individuals and three connected entities. The EU accused Wagner of "serious human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings."
Mali has been facing an ongoing insurgency that resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians and more than 150 U.N. peacekeeping troops.