The ruling junta in Mali has definitively banned French broadcasters RFI and France 24 after alleging that the Sahel nation’s army caried out abuses, the radio and television channels said Wednesday.

This screen grab from a video obtained from the French army on April 22, 2022, which claims to have filmed it via a drone, shows, according to them, Russian mercenaries burying bodies near a base in Gossi, northern Mali.

France Medias Monde, the state-owned parent company of RFI and France 24, said it had received notification during the day from Mali’s communication authority.

“France Medias Monde strongly contests the definitive decision to suspend,” the two broadcasters, the company said in a statement.

It called the move “unfounded and arbitrary,” adding it would use all possible means of recourse to get the decision reversed.

The French government had called Mali’s initial temporary suspension of the French media channels on March 17 a grave attack on liberty of the press.

RFI (Radio France International) and France 24 cover African news extensively and have a strong following in the former French colony.

The broadcast ban comes after diplomatic relations between Mali and its former colonial power France plunged to their lowest point in years amid disputes over democracy and the alleged presence of Russia-linked paramilitaries in the country.

Mali expelled the French ambassador in January.

The junta, which seized power in August 2020, said there had been “false accusations” in a report in mid-March in which RFI aired comments from alleged victims of abuse by the army and shadowy Russian private-security group Wagner.

Mali’s junta also has accused Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. human rights chief, of making false allegations against the government.

An impoverished nation of 21 million people, Mali has over the past decade been wracked by Islamist violence.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee their homes.

Additionally, the under-equipped army often has been accused of committing abuses during the brutal conflict. The army-led interim government regularly rejects such accusations.

The junta’s growing friendship with Russia has worsened friction with France, a traditional ally.

Paris last month announced the impending withdrawal of thousands of troops deployed in Mali under France’s anti-jihadist mission in the Sahel. VOA

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