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EU weighs mission to train Malian army

Nov. 15, 2012 - 05:23PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 15, 2012 - 05:23PM  |  
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UN: Military action avoidable in Mali

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N.'s Secretary General's special envoy to the Sahel region of Africa says he believes military intervention is avoidable in Mali where al-Qaida-linked Islamist rebels have taken control of the northern part of the country.
Former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Tuesday he believed there was still room for diplomatic maneuvering ahead of any possible military action to dislodge the Islamists. He placed a priority on humanitarian aid and development saying, "without them there will be no solution on the Mali problem." — AP

PARIS — European Union nations are studying the possible dispatch of 250 troops to train the Malian Army in support of an African-led intervention against insurgents in the north of the conflict-ridden country, a French defense official said Nov. 15.

Sending the 250 trainers is one of the "working hypotheses" of the EU nations, the official said.

A first deployment could be made in January to the north of Bamako, to deliver 12-15 months of instruction to four to five battalions, a second defense official said.

The training mission is to be discussed at a "jumbo" meeting of EU defense and foreign ministers in Brussels Nov. 19, which will discuss the Sahel and Mali crises, as well as other security issues.

Defense and foreign ministers from France, Germany, Poland, Italy and Spain, a group dubbed "Weimar Plus," backed the prospective EU training mission for Malian forces, at their first meeting on Nov. 15.

"We encourage our partners to enhance efforts for a political solution to the Malian crisis, as well as to contribute to a possible training mission to support the Malian armed forces, in line with the Foreign Affairs Council's conclusions of the 15th of October," the ministers of the five countries said in a final communiqué.

The Mali training mission would be part of the EU's crisis management approach, intended to support a decision by the African Union to send 3,300 troops under the flag of the Economic Community for West African States to help the Mali government fight Islamic insurgents in the north.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the Weimar Plus ministerial meeting examined the perspective of improving European defense capability, efficiency in missions and the competitiveness of the defense industry.

France is committed to pursuing European defense, but that does not exclude Britain.

"It is not one or the other," Fabius said. Defense cooperation is open to other countries, he said.

France could cooperate with Britain and Europe, the first defense official said.

France, Germany and Poland formed the Weimar Triangle group in 1991 to help the East European country find its feet after the end of the Cold War. France invited Italy and Spain to the meeting as part of Paris' efforts to relaunch a European defense initiative.

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