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U.S. blacklists officials who helped Wagner Group enter Mali

Three Malian military officials accused of aiding Wagner Group's entrance of their West African country have been sanctioned by the Biden administration. File Photo by Arkady Budnitsky/UPI
Three Malian military officials accused of aiding Wagner Group's entrance of their West African country have been sanctioned by the Biden administration. File Photo by Arkady Budnitsky/UPI | License Photo

July 24 (UPI) -- The Biden administration has blacklisted three Malian military officials accused of ushering the Russian mercenary Wagner Group into the West African nation.

The U.S. departments of State and Treasury named Col. Sadio Camara, Col. Alou Boi Diarra and Lit. Col. Adama Bagayoko for sanctions Monday based on evidence that shows they have contributed to the U.S.-designated Wagner Group's malicious and destabilizing activities in Mali.

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Brian Nelson, under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, described the three military leaders as "principle Malian officials who have been instrumental in facilitating the Wagner Group's entrenchment in Mali over the past two years."

"These officials have made their people vulnerable to the Wagner Group's destabilizing activities and human rights abuses while paving the way for the exploitation of their country's sovereign resources to the benefit of the Wagner Group's operations in Ukraine," he said in a statement.

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The private military company Wagner Group was until at least recently at the forefront fighting Russia's war in Ukraine.

Its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has relocated to Belarus after staging a failed mutiny late last month against the Kremlin's military.

Though its exposure has grown since the war in Ukraine began, the mercenary organization has over the last decade worked to embed itself in several African nations where they provide security services as well as engage in mining and other private sectors, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.

The private military has been accused of committing human rights abuses and war crimes, including killings and torture, in the African nations were its personnel operate. The CRS report states that its role on the continent appears to be in support of the Kremlin's effort to "disrupt Western influence at relatively low cost" via exploiting "the vulnerabilities and ambitions of particular African leaders."

U.S. officials state that the Wagner Group gained access to Mali in December 2021 through the assistance of the three military officials sanctioned Monday.

The Treasury said Camara, Mali's 44-year-old minister of defense, had organized the deployment of the Wagner Group to his country, and in 2021 made several trips to Russia to solidify their relationship.

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Diarra, Mali's 41-year-old chief of staff of the Air Force, is accused by the U.S. Treasury of having "significantly contributed to the logistical movement of Russian entities" in Mali, and having planned and executed the Wagner Group's entrance into the country.

Bagayoko, the 43-year-old Malian Air Force deputy chief of staff, is accused of being an advocate for the Wagner Group to the Burkina Faso government and of seeking to secure the mercenary company access to Mali's gold mining sector.

State Department Secretary Antony Blinken said that civilian deaths have surged 278% since Wagner deployed to Mali in late 2021, with many of those deaths being the product of operations jointly conducted by Malian and Wagner Group forces.

"The United States will continue to take action against those who facilitate the Wagner Group's destabilizing activities, which pose threats to peace and security in Mali and the region," he said in a statement.

"As the largest bilateral donor of development and humanitarian assistance to Mali, the United States supports the people of Mali in their aspirations for peace, prosperity and democracy."

The sanctions block all U.S. assets owned by the three designated Mali officials while barring U.S. citizens from doing business with them.

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The U.S. sanctions were imposed after Britain last week hit 13 people and firms connected to the Wagner Group in African nations, including Mali, with punitive measures.

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