Dutch to send 380 troops to Mali

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The Netherlands will send 380 soldiers and four Apache attack helicopters to war-torn Mali following an appeal for more UN peacekeepers, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday.

The announcement comes after an urgent request by the UN's special representative in the west African country for more blue helmets as its peacekeeping force faces a new surge of Islamist attacks.

"The Netherlands has decided to answer the UN's call," Rutte told journalists at his weekly press briefing following a cabinet meeting.

"Northern Mali is threatening to become a place where terrorists are freely trained," he added.

The Dutch force's main task will be intelligence gathering for the UN's Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), as well as training local police, the Dutch foreign ministry said in a statement.

The high-tech Apache attack helicopters will also be used in an intelligence gathering role and to protect the Dutch forces.

"In principle the Dutch force will remain with the mission until the end of 2015," the ministry added.

The UN special representative to Mali, former Dutch politician Bert Koenders, told the Security Council earlier this month that Mali's international force needed helicopters and troops as it built up to replace a French force that intervened this year to halt an Islamist takeover.

Koenders said recent attacks in the north of the country had been an important "wake-up call" over security.

MINUSMA is meant to eventually reach 12,640 troops and police. At the end of July it had just over 6,000 but Nigerian and some Chadian troops have since withdrawn.

French troops entered Mali in January to halt an advance on the capital Bamako by Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist groups and allied Tuareg rebels.

A presidential election was held in July but militant attacks have resumed in northern Mali where extremist groups are based.

France still has 3,200 troops in Mali but wants to reduce the figure to 1,000 by the end of this year.

The Netherlands twice before attempted to join a European Union-flagged military training mission to Mali, but both times the plans were dropped due to infighting within the ruling coalition, local media reports said.

© 2013 AFP

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