A WEST African air-traffic agency has told Mali that a French military plane violated its airspace, a Malian airport official said Wednesday, amid confusion over the consequences of regional sanctions on Bamako.
On Sunday, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed to shutter land and air borders with the Sahel state and impose a trade embargo over delayed elections.
Mali responded by announcing that it would close its borders to ECOWAS members too.
The sanctions on Mali have come after the country’s army-dominated government last month proposed staying in power for up to five years before restoring democracy.
It had previously promised to hold elections on February 27.
A document from ASECNA, the air-traffic agency for much of West Africa, posted on social media, showed that a French military aircraft entered Malian airspace on Tuesday from neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire.
The flight had violated the recent suspension of flights between Mali and other ECOWAS member states, the document said.
Colonel Lassina Togola, the head of Mali’s national airports company, confirmed the authenticity of the ASECNA document.
But he did not indicate how the border closures affected French military movements, nor those of UN peacekeepers.
France has thousands of troops in Mali and neighbouring Sahel countries as part of an anti-jihadist force.
The UN also has some 16,500 personnel in Mali as part of its MINUSMA peacekeeping operation, including 10,700 troops, according to its website.
Togola told AFP that the borders between Mali and ECOWAS countries are closed and that aircraft cannot travel between them.
He nonetheless added that ‘authorisation may be granted on request by the carrier,’ without offering further details.
French army spokesman Pascal Ianni said that ‘the closure of the borders does not concern military flights.’
MINUSMA spokesman Olivier Salgado likewise said that the UN mission’s operations have continued ‘without interruption.’
ASECNA, the air-traffic agency, did not respond to several requests for comment.