EU governments have agreed to push ahead with plans to send hundreds of military training personnel to assist the Malian government forces. Germany has said its soldiers will be among those taking part.
"The Council hereby decides to establish the European Union Training Mission (EUTM Mali), which will be responsible for providing the Malian Armed Forces with military training and advice... in response to the direct request by the Malian authorities to the EU," read a conclusion of the Thursday meeting.
Foreign ministers and their representatives agreed to appoint France's General Francois Lecointre as the Mission Commander, calling upon him to speed up existing preparations. The training mission proper is planned to be underway by mid-February at the latest.
However, a technical team was to be sent to the Malian capital, Bamako, "within the next few days."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the trainers were "an important EU contribution to re-establishing stability," adding that German soldiers would take part.
'Terror concerns all'
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius urged EU nations to act against "terrorism," referring to the Islamist rebels who are said to have ties to the al Qaeda.
"Though France is in the fore, all European nations are concerned by terrorism," Fabius said.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said plans to send 250 trainers could be expanded, with the number doubled if necessary.
The ministers also called on the Malian authorities to pursue a political solution and establish a "national inclusive dialogue."
Call for political solution
British Minister for Europe David Lidington called on the Malian government to "reach out to people in the north of Mali, who are not all terrorists or extremists, so that they can rebuild a network of popular support for the reunification of their country."
European Commission Vice President Catherine Ashton called the meeting earlier in the week to pave the way for logistical and humanitarian support to Mali.
"There have been horrific abuses of human rights, the desecration of holy and cultural sights, the trampling of political and religious freedom and a threat posed to all neighboring countries," she said on Wednesday.
Leaders from the West African regional bloc ECOWAS have finalized plans to deploy African troops to Mali. Chad pledged to send 2,000 soldiers and Nigeria, 900.
While the West African troops prepared for deployment, French soldiers on the ground advanced closer to the central cities of Diabaly and Konna, where they reportedly exchanged fire with Islamist rebels who had taken the cities earlier in the week.
rc/dr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)