Mali's foreign minister to join EU talks.
Mali's foreign minister will join his European counterparts today (17 January) for crisis talks after France sent in bombers and troops last week in response to a military offensive by Islamists, who control more than half of Mali's territory.
Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, said on Tuesday (15 January) that “a package of measures” to provide “immediate and longer-term help” to the Malian government has been put together. The UK, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Denmark have all offered logistical support to France, which is increasing its troop presence in the country to 2,500. The UN Security Council has supported France's action.
There is, however, no indication that the EU is seeking to expand the role it accepted in an intervention plan approved by the UN in December, which was limited to providing training, financial and logistical support for Mali and for an African force formed to defeat the Islamists.
Ashton has stressed the importance of “African ownership” of efforts to resolve the crisis. The UN plan foresaw sending 3,300 African troops to Mali to repel an offensive that had been expected next September or October.
The pre-emptive strike by the Islamists – led by al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) – has changed the picture, and African countries have now committed themselves to sending around 2,800 troops in the near future, though the timelines vary.
The EU measures announced to date include bringing forward to early March the deployment of trainers to the Malian army, and Ashton said on Tuesday that the “first preparatory and technical elements” of the mission would be despatched “within days”.
Funding – a still-undisclosed sum – will also be released to the European Commission's African Peace Facility.
Ashton has also announced that she will appoint a special envoy to the Sahel, reflecting concern that unrest in Mali could encourage other Islamist groups in the region.
France, which has for years identified AQIM as its principal policy concern in Africa, has said it will fight “as long as necessary”. It also initially suggested that the operation could be over within weeks. However, early fighting has been intense and difficult, and French comments are now more cautious.
The UN says that thousands of refugees have already crossed into Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger. Hundreds of thousands were displaced last year by the conflict, compounding a long-running food crisis.
Last year, the Commission provided €73 million in humanitarian aid to Mali and Malian refugees to help avert what Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for humanitarian aid, says could have been a catastrophe. Already this year, the Commission has allocated another €20m.
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