21 January 2013

Mali: French, Malian Troops Take Second Town As EU Proposes Mali Meeting

French and Malian troops recaptured the town of Duentza on Monday after taking Diabaly earlier in the day. The European Union has offered to host talks on the conflict on 5 February and has set up a coordinating centre for the planned west African force in the country.

The French defence ministry said "Malian troops backed by French soldiers" retook Duentza and Diabaly in a "definite military victory".

Local people cheered as the troops entered Diabaly, which has been hit by French air strikes over the last week.

As news of the advances came through, the European Union (EU) offered to host a meeting on Mali in Brussels on 5 February. It would involve the EU, the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) regional bloc.

The EU aims to send about 500 military trainers to Mali by mid-February.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has set up a "clearing house" mechanism to centralise both requests for and offers of logistical support for the African-led intervention force, known as Afisma.

"Possible logistical support to Afisma can range from technical, material or advisory support to the provision of strategic air lift, planning and training. The 'Clearing House' will then allocate all requests for a final decision by the Ecowas HQ," a statement issued by Ashton said.

The 3,300-strong force, which has been backed by the UN, is currently being set up and will need about 200 million euros.

The US and Canada are expected to provide much of the funding and sources say the EU is ready to contribute about 50 million euros.

A donors' meeting is to take place in at the AU summit in Ethiopia on 29 January.

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