(CNN)Sixteen European governments have issued a statement to “firmly condemn the deployment of mercenary troops” in the west African state of Mali.
The 16 governments, including France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany, said they were 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, a notorious Russian paramilitary company, and associated military contractors have been previously deployed to eastern Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Mozambique and the Central African Republic, according to multiple CNN investigations.
Earlier this week, flight-tracking data showed a Russian Air Force Tu-154 flying to the Malian capital, Bamako, from Benghazi in Libya, where Wagner has had a presence in support of forces led by Khalifa Haftar, a renegade general who leads the self-styled Libyan National Army.
The aircraft belonged to the Russian Air Force 223rd Flight. The Russian Defense Ministry had previously signed a contract, details of which were seen by CNN, with a company owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin for the use of transport aircraft of the 223rd Flight. Prigozhin, an oligarch so close to the Kremlin that he is known as President Vladimir Putin’s “chef,” is thought to be the driving force behind the Wagner group.
The European states said the deployment to Mali “can only further deteriorate the security situation in West Africa.
CNN reported earlier this year on human rights abuses, including arbitrary killings and torture of civilians, by Russian mercenaries in Central African Republic.
Last week, the European Union imposed sanctions against Wagner; eight individuals associated with the group; and three entities connected to it because of what it called “serious human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings.”
Mali has faced a long-running jihadi insurgency which has killed thousands of civilians. A UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, has been unable to quell the violence, which has cost the lives of more than 150 of its soldiers.