BRUSSELS - AgenceFrance-Presse
European High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Britain's Catherine Ashton, delivers a speech about the situation in Mali during the plenary session in the European Parliament, in Strasbourg, France 15 January 2013. EPA Photo
European Union foreign ministers agreed Thursday to quickly dispatch military trainers for Mali's embattled army and fund an African-led intervention force to stem "terrorist" action in the West African nation.
"The EU condemns the acts being carried out by terrorist groups against the Malian armed forces which are jeopardising the country's territorial integrity," the 27-state bloc said at extraordinary talks called to discuss events in Mali.
Barely minutes after the opening of the crisis talks, ministers and delegates decided to send 450 to 500 non-combat troops, half of them trainers, to Mali as speedily as possible.
After the first reprisal attack against French
military intervention in Mali, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius joined counterparts saying: "Though France is to the fore, all European nations are concerned by terrorism".
"I think the threat of Jihadist terrorism is something that should be a matter of great concern to all of us," added Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmernmans.
"Not one European nation can hide. There must be solidarity," he said a day after Germany and Italy joined Britain, Belgium and Denmark
in contributing to military efforts by France and West African nations to keep Mali intact.
A small EU team led by the mission commander, French
General Francois Lecointre, is to head to Mali this weekend to prepare for the first trainers to arrive around mid-February.
The ministers also pledged "swift financial assistance" and logistical support for an African-led intervention force approved by the UN, AFISMA, which is currently being set up under Nigeria's leadership.
The 3,300-strong force is in need of up to 200 million euros -- though the United States, Canada
and other nations are expected to pick up a substantial part of the tab. Diplomats said the EU might contribute around a quarter of the sum.
Plans to set up the EU training mission (EUTM) began months ago but were accelerated following France's decision to launch a ground and air offensive last week against Islamist fighters marching on the Malian capital, Bamako.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the EU trainers were "an important EU contribution to re-establishing stability in Mali" and that Germany would be among the dozen-odd nations willing so far to participate.
But he added: "In the longer-term there can't be a European solution. African forces and the Malian army will have to take charge." Original plans for the EU mission, given a 15-month mandate at a cost of some 12 million euros, have been radically upset by the Islamist offensive and French
"The situation has changed, but the mission must go ahead. There's still a need for an efficient army that's under civilian control," an EU official said.
It will have no combat role and no mentoring role, unlike trainers in Afghanistan.