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Mali donor conference raises 3.25 bn euros

Money raised will go to political and economic reconstruction Mali, which is facing Islamist insurgency

AFP , Wednesday 15 May 2013
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International donors pledged a much more than expected 3.2 billion euros in aid Wednesday to help Mali avoid the mistakes which allowed Islamist rebels to seize vast swathes of the troubled country.

The meeting, co-hosted by the European Union and France, Mali's former colonial ruler, had an initial target of two billion euros ($2.6 billion) to cover about half the cost of a 2013-14 economic and political reconstruction programme agreed in cooperation with the international community.

But French President Francois Hollande said donors had been much more generous in view of the issues at stake in Mali, where rebels linked to Al-Qaeda threatened to capture the capital Bamako early this year before French military intervention forced them back.

"More than 3.25 billion euros has been mobilised at this conference," he said.

"We are showing that we can unify around a cause which concerns us all, Europe and Africa," Hollande told the more than 100 delegations.

"The terrorist groups in the north believed that they owned the place," he said, with France deciding to intervene because the rebels "had decided to conquer all of Mali and were looking even further afield."

Ultimately, the rebels "directly threatened the security of Europe," said Hollande, who was in Brussels as well for discussions with the European Union on the faltering French economy.

The president warned also that the problem has not ended with French intervention, insisting that Mali must live up to its commitments to hold elections in July and to promote national reconciliation.

Mali President Dioncounda Traore echoed those points, saying the crisis predated the problems of 2012 and stemmed from the country's economic and political failings.

"We must not mistake the consequences for the cause," Traore said. "We cannot hide our head in the sand."

Delegates made similar remarks through the day, highlighting the importance of the July polls in restoring democratic rule in the west African country.

The new government will have to lead Mali out of a crisis that has crippled the country since Tuareg tribes -- who have long felt marginalised by Bamako -- launched a fresh rebellion in January 2012 for independence in the north.

That revolt led to a military coup which in turn opened the way for the Tuareg and their Islamist allies to seize key northern cities.

However the Tuareg were quickly sidelined and the extremists chased them out, imposing a brutal form of sharia law in the cities under their control.

France sent in troops in January as the rebels advanced on Bamako.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said "the war is being won. Now we have to secure the peace."

Aid granted would be tied to an open and transparent Mali, with political reconciliation and democracy key elements in restoring stability to the country and to the wider Sahel region.

"That is why the elections must take place on the date indicated" of July 28, Fabius said. "You cannot separate (the country's development) from the democratic process."

President Traore has pledged that the July poll would go ahead but the country's election commission has warned that that might be too soon.

European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso announced that the EU would contribute 520 million euros while Hollande said France would offer 280 million euros.

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 providing 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.

France has begun withdrawing its 4,500 troops deployed in Mali and handing over the reins to a 6,300-strong African 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.

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