The “the malign presence” of Russia's mercenary army, the Wagner Group, in Mali can no longer be ignored, Britain told the UN Security Council on Tuesday, a day after four peacekeepers were killed in the West African nation.
No group has claimed responsibility for Monday's attack, in which four blue helmets from Chad died in a blast while they were conducting a mine-detection patrol.
Wagner — a network providing fighters for hire that was founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — has been allowed to operate in Mali despite evidence gathered by the UN pointing to its involvement in widespread human rights abuses.
The UK's deputy ambassador to the UN, James Kariuki, told the Security Council that the world body's independent expert on human rights in Mali had reported abuses committed by Malian forces alongside “foreign military personnel described as Russian military officials”.
“Without accountability and justice, trust cannot be rebuilt and grievances will endure,” he said.
At least 174 peacekeepers have been killed in hostile acts in Mali since the start of the mission in 2013, making it the world's deadliest ongoing UN peacekeeping mission.
Mr Kariuki questioned Mali's commitment to working with the UN and urged Bamako to grant peacekeeping troops unrestricted access to independently investigate allegations of human rights abuses.
“We urge the authorities to work constructively with the mission, lifting restrictions and facilitating the vital work of peacekeepers,” he said.
US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield stated that Wagner will not bring peace to Mali, only exploitation and instability.
“Human rights abuses and violations in the name of counter-terrorism operations only deepen mistrust of state authorities and they play into the hands of violent extremist groups, who recruit among the aggrieved and disillusioned,” she said.
Anti-UN sentiment has been increasing in the African nation.
In late September, hundreds of Malians marched in Bamako against the UN peacekeeping mission Minusma — the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali.
The protesters waved Malian and Russian flags, chanted anti-UN slogans and accused Minusma of undermining Mali's sovereign.
Security concerns across the country have only deepened as groups with links to Al Qaeda and ISIS expanded their operations after the French military withdrew its troops in August.
Minusma was deployed in 2013 to shore up the turbulent Sahel state, where fighting has claimed thousands of lives and uprooted hundreds of thousands from their homes.