EU, France gather Mali donors

14th May 2013, Comments 0 comments

The EU and France will gather international donors Wednesday to drum up aid and support for Mali as it seeks to move on from a war against hardline Islamists and end a two-year old political crisis.

"The aim is to find nearly 1.9 billion euros ($2.4 billion)," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Tuesday.

"Security is largely in place ... now the need is for democracy, dialogue and development, and these go together. And for that, we need money," Fabius told RTL Radio.

The conference will be attended by French President Francois Hollande, his Malian counterpart Dioncounda Traore, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and heads of state from several west African countries.

There will be about 100 delegations in all.

France, Mali's former colonial power, sent in troops in January to fight Al Qaeda-linked rebels who had seized the north of the country and were advancing towards the capital Bamako.

The French-led offensive has pushed the Islamists out of the main cities and into desert and mountain hideouts from where they are staging guerrilla attacks.

France, in the process of withdrawing its troops, insists the war is drawing to a close.

"We are in the process of winning the war, now we must find peace," Fabius said. "For that, we need economic development."

The international community is now hoping elections slated for July will produce an effective national government, two years after a coup plunged the west African nation into crisis.

Mali's national electoral commission has said it will be difficult to hold polls so soon.

The impoverished country is badly in need of help to repair the damage caused by the war and to offer some hope of bringing together its disparate political groups.

The funds targeted at the conference will cover about 45 percent of the costs of a reconstruction plan drawn up for this year and next by Bamako.

"Mali really needs the money to re-establish basic services such as water, electricity, health and administration, especially in the northern areas," one EU official said.

EU officials say the war has resulted in some 500,000 refugees, with three quarters of them displaced to the southern part of the country.

Some two million people have no secure food supply while 600,000 children are threatened by malnutrition, with conditions on the ground difficult for providing aid.

Besides humanitarian aid, the EU is training Mali's ramshackle armed forces to bring them up to standard on both their military role and responsibilities to civil society.

EU sources Tuesday also stressed the need for progress in reforming the army and bolstering the country's democratic credentials, with July's planned elections essential.

The process is "about political reconstruction as much as economic reconstruction," one source said.

On Monday, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation urged member states to make generous contributions at Wednesday's conference.

At the same time, the authorities in Bamako must implement "the transition roadmap leading to the planned July 2013 elections as a way of returning normalcy to the country," OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said.

The new government will have to lead Mali out of a crisis that has crippled the country since Tuareg rebels launched a rebellion in January 2012 for independence of the north.

They overwhelmed government troops, leading to a military coup in Bamako which opened the way for hardline Islamists to chase out their former Tuareg allies and seize key northern cities before moving on the south.

France meanwhile has begun withdrawing its 4,500 troops deployed in Mali and handing over the reins to a 6,300-strong force, the International Mission for Support to Mali (MISMA).

Paris has said about 1,000 soldiers will remain in Mali beyond this year to back up a UN force that is to replace MISMA.

This UN force of 12,600 peacekeepers, to be responsible for stabilising the north, will be phased in gradually from July.

© 2013 AFP

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