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International donor conference for war-torn Mali opens

January 29, 2013

Mali president Dioncounda Traore (L) and French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius chat at the Donor Conference on Mali on January 29, 2013 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. — AFP Photo

ADDIS ABABA: African leaders and international officials pledged $455.5 million at a donor conference on Tuesday for military operations against militants in Mali and humanitarian aid.

Malian President Dioncounda Traore thanked the “entire international community” as nations offered cash or support at the top-level meeting at the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia's capital.

However, while large donations were made,including over $120 million from Japan and $96 million from the United States, it was not immediately clear how much cash was earmarked for backing AFISMA, the key African-led military force.

“I am glad to report that the overall amount that was pledged here reached the amount of $455.53 million,” African Union (AU) peace and security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said, after the conference in the AU headquarters in Ethiopia.

In addition to the $455.5 million raised in cash, which includes funding for AFISMA, the Malian army as well as humanitarian aid, other aid was pledged in kind, Lamamra added.

However, the pledges fall far short of the some $960 million the AU say is needed, which includes $460 million for AFISMA for one year, and a further $356 million for the Malian army. It also includes funds for some 2,500 additional troops that west African states have decided to add to AFISMA.

But diplomats said the amount raised was only supposed to enable AFISMA to remain operational until the United Nations Security Council approves logistical support to the force.

A UN official said that the “important thing is to make a start”, while a top official from the AU, which contributed $50 million, suggested the UN would make up the shortfall.

“If the AU can find $50 million, then the UN can find ten times that amount,” he said.

The conference came a day after French-led forces seized Mali's fabled city of Timbuktu from militants as part of an offensive against the radicals who have controlled the country's vast desert north for 10 months.

African leaders and officials, as well as representatives from the United Nations, European Union and China also took part in the conference.

“We all know the gravity of the crisis,” AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said.

“It is a situation that requires a swift and effective international response for it threatens Mali, the region, the continent and even beyond.”

Alassane Ouattara, president of Ivory Coast and chairman of 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has led the deployment of AFISMA, said there was an “urgent need to speed up the deployment”.

“The main point now should be quick disbursement of the funds that have been pledged,” he said, adding that he was “confident that over the year we'll have the amount we need” to make up the shortfall in funding.

A woeful lack of cash and logistical resources has hampered AFISMA in its support of Malian troops against extremist forces who seized swathes of the arid north after a coup last year.

So far, just 2,000 African troops have been sent to Mali or neighbouring Niger, with the bulk of the fighting borne by some 2,500 French troops, who launched a military offensive on January 11.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the meeting had been to support the work “of restoring the sovereignty and integrity of Mali, prerequisites for lasting political stability.”

Mali's president also called on the wider Muslim world to support efforts and show that “Islam at its heart does not serve as a cover for terrorism and organised crime.”

UN leader Ban Ki-moon warned ahead of the conference there was a “moral imperative for the entire international community” to provide support.

UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman told the conference that the situation was “urgent”, warning that “the insurgent groups in Mali pose a threat to national, regional and international peace.”

Support pledged would allow Malian and AFISMA troops to “quickly consolidate the gains made and to stabilise areas that have been wrestled from control from the insurgent groups,” he added, noting “the challenge before us is enormous”.