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Mali: Mali president pledges polls as EU, France gather donors

Source: Agence France-Presse
Country: Mali

05/14/2013 15:37 GMT

by Jerome Rivet

BRUSSELS, May 14, 2013 (AFP) - Mali's president pledged Tuesday that July elections, a key goal of the troubled country's backers, will go ahead as he prepared for a donors conference meant to help Bamako move on from war and a two-year political crisis.

"We will do everything so that the elections can begin on July 28," Traore said in Brussels, adding: "Failure to hold the elections would cause even more problems."

The president said neither he nor his ministers would stand in the polls, seen as essential to restoring democratic rule after a military coup in 2012 paved the way for Islamist rebels to seize control of the north.

France, Mali's former colonial power, sent in troops in January to fight the Al-Qaeda-linked rebels who were then advancing on the capital Bamako, pushing them back.

Wednesday's conference will be attended by French President Francois Hollande, Traore, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and heads of state from several west African countries, with some 100 delegations in all.

"The aim is to find nearly 1.9 billion euros ($2.4 billion)," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said earlier Tuesday.

"Security is largely in place... now the need is for democracy, dialogue and development, and these go together. And for that, we need money," Fabius told RTL Radio.

Barroso announced Tuesday after meeting Traore that the EU would contribute 520 million euros while diplomatic sources said France would offer some 280 million euros.

The French-led offensive has pushed the Islamists out of the main cities and into desert and mountain hideouts from where they are staging guerrilla attacks.

France, in the process of withdrawing its troops, insists the war is drawing to a close.

"We are in the process of winning the war, now we must find peace," Fabius said. "For that, we need economic development."

The international community hopes the July elections will produce an effective government but Mali's national electoral commission has said it will be difficult to hold polls so soon.

The impoverished country is badly in need of help to repair the damage caused by the war and to offer some hope of bringing together its disparate political groups.

The funds targeted at the conference will cover about 45 percent of the costs of a reconstruction plan drawn up for this year and next by Bamako.

"Mali really needs the money to re-establish basic services such as water, electricity, health and administration, especially in the northern areas," one EU official said.

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 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.

EU sources stressed the need for progress in reforming the army and bolstering the country's democratic credentials, with July's planned elections essential.

The process is "about political reconstruction as much as economic reconstruction," one source said.

The new government will have to lead Mali out of a crisis that has crippled the country since Tuareg rebels launched a rebellion in January 2012 for independence of the north.

They overwhelmed government troops, leading to the military coup in Bamako which opened the way for hardline Islamists to chase out their former Tuareg allies and seize key northern cities before moving on the south.

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


© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

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