Mali’s junta has advised French Defence Minister Florence Parly to observe the “greatness of silence” after she accused the army leadership in the Sahel state of provocations.
In an interview broadcast on state TV on Wednesday night, junta spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga also accused France of “colonial reflexes” and of using regional organisations to divide Malians.
Relations between Mali’s ruling military and France, the former colonial power, have frayed since the army seized power in a coup in August 2020.
But tensions have risen further since December, when the West Africa bloc ECOWAS imposed sanctions, including a trade embargo and border closures, on the conflict-torn nation.
The measures from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) were a response to a junta proposal to stay in power for up to five years before staging elections — despite an earlier commitment to hold the vote in February.
On Tuesday, Parly accused Mali’s junta of multiplying “provocations” after it asked Danish special forces operating in the country to withdraw.
Maiga responded the following day by saying that Parly should heed the 19th-century French poet Alfred de Vigny’s verses on the “greatness of silence.”
The spokesman was making an apparent reference to Vigny’s poem “La Mort du Loup” (The Death of the Wolf), which contains the line: “Only silence is great; all the rest is weakness.”
“When people desperately try to isolate Mali by manipulating sub-regional organisations, one ends up asking who is doing the provoking,” Maiga continued, referring to the ECOWAS sanctions.
The junta spokesman also repeated a demand that Denmark withdraw its troops, which have arrived in Mali to join the French-led Takuba force of European special forces.
The Danish contingent arrived in Mali earlier this month, but the junta has said it had never signed off on their joining Takuba.
Mali has been struggling to quell a brutal jihadist conflict that first emerged in 2012, before spreading to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
France has thousands of troops in Mali and neighbouring Sahel countries as part of an anti-jihadist force.