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UN sanctions in Mali to end after Russia blocks renewal

FILE PHOTO: A United Nations flag is seen in Pyla in the Larnaca District of Cyprus

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -United Nations sanctions in Mali will end on Thursday after Russia vetoed a renewal of the regime that targeted anyone violating or obstructing a 2015 peace deal, hindering aid delivery, committing rights abuses or recruiting child soldiers.

Independent U.N. sanctions monitors reported to the Security Council this month that Mali's troops and its foreign security partners, believed to be Russia's Wagner mercenary group, are using violence against women and other "grave human rights abuses" to spread terror.

Thirteen Security Council members voted in favor of a resolution, drafted by France and the United Arab Emirates, to extend the U.N. sanctions and independent monitoring for another year. Russia cast a veto, while China abstained from the vote.

Russia then instead proposed extending U.N. sanctions in Mali for one final year, but immediately ending the independent monitoring now. It was the only country to vote yes, while Japan voted no and the remaining 13 members abstained.

Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Robert Wood told the council that Russia wanted to eliminate the independent monitoring "to stifle publication of uncomfortable truths about Wagner's actions in Mali, which require attention."

In response, Russia's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy told Reuters that was speculation and resembled "paranoia," adding that Russia was "upholding the interests of the affected country - Mali, as the council is supposed to do."

The U.S. has also accused Wagner, which has about 1,000 fighters in Mali, of engineering an abrupt request by the junta for a 13,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force to leave. The decade-long operation is due to shutdown by the end of the year.

Mali's junta, which seized power in coups in 2020 and 2021, teamed up with Wagner in 2021 to fight an Islamist insurgency. Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin died in a plane crash in Russia last week and President Vladimir Putin then ordered Wagner fighters to sign an oath of allegiance to the Russian state.

Mali's military junta wrote to the Security Council earlier this month to ask for the sanctions to be lifted.

The current annual mandate for the U.N. sanctions regime and independent monitoring will expire on Thursday. Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia made clear that Russia would not discuss the issue any further after the two votes on Wednesday.

The council established the Mali sanctions regime in 2017, which allowed it to impose travel bans and asset freezes. There are currently eight people subjected to the U.N. sanctions measures. The independent monitors reported to the council twice a year on implementation and potential new designations.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Grant McCool)