EU backs military training unit for Mali

Jan. 17, 2013 at 12:18 PM

LONDON, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- The British government said Thursday that a European Union training mission for Mali was a sign the crisis there is one of growing international concern.

The Council of the European Union announced Thursday that a training mission in Mali is meant to help improve the capacity of the Malian army as it fights the advance of Islamic militants from the north of the country.

The government in Bamako lost control over northern Mali to foreign and Islamic fighters after a series of political calamities in early 2012. Paris last week responded to a request from Bamako to send forces to the country, a former French colony.

The European Union's training mission will provide support to national forces, but won't be involved in combat operations. Similar pledges were offered by Western governments, including the United States and Great Britain.

British Minister for Europe David Lidington said he was pleased the European community was tacking the Malian situation seriously.

"There is a clear risk of the region becoming a haven for terrorists, which could threaten Europe and the U.K.," he said in a statement. "That is why it is in the clear interests of the U.K. to support efforts by the French and the Malian government to stabilize the country."

The European Council appointed French Brig. Gen. Francois Lecointre to lead the training mission. Deployment requires a separate legal act from the European government.

The U.S. government this week issued a travel warning for Niger out of concerns the crisis in Mali could spill over the borders. Algerian militants sympathetic with al-Qaida have taken a number of westerners hostage at a gas facility in retaliation for the multilateral intervention in Mali.

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