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World

Europe mulls aid for crisis-hit Mali

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and UN Special Envoy Romano Prodi agree - Mali needs help. But they are yet to decide exactly what is to be done.

A man carries a sign reading No to the destructive soldiers of ECOWAS as Malians opposed to a military intervention to retake Mali's Islamist-controlled north march in the streets of the capital, Bamako, Mali on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012. Representatives of the African Union, regional bloc ECOWAS, and the United Nations were due to meet Friday in Bamako to discuss options for a military invention. (AP Photo/Harouna Traore)

Mali Demonstration Demonstrant Transparent Menschen Gruppe Bamako

"We're extremely concerned about the situation in northern Mali," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said after his meeting with the UN Special Envoy for the Sahel region Romano Prodi in Berlin. Reports of horrific human rights abuses, women being oppressed, and the destruction of precious cultural artifacts have been emanating from northern Mali recently, after the now Islamist-run north split from the Christian-dominated south.

Westerwelle explained why Europeans should also be worried about these developments. He pointed out that only one border separates Mali from the Mediterranean. If Mali disintegrated, terrorists could threaten European security. Prodi added that the entire Sahel region could be caught up in events in Mali - since borders are not clearly defined, terrorist organizations can operate over a wide area.

President of the African Union-UN peacekeeping panel Romano Prodi (L) and German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle give a press conference at the foreign office in Berlin on October 23, 2012. Prodi, former European Commission chief and Italian Premier, has been named by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as envoy for the Sahel and will coordinate the United Nations' system-wide efforts to finalize and implement the United Nations Integrated Regional Strategy for the Sahel. AFP PHOTO / ODD ANDERSEN (Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Westerwelle and Prodi met in Berlin on Tuesday

Looking for political solutions first

On Monday (22.10.2012), EU foreign ministers agreed to support African efforts to resolve the conflict in Mali. Prodi came to speak with Westerwelle a day later. The former president of the EU Commission and former Italian prime minister had also held talks with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has already started preparing troops to try and retake Mali's north. Speaking at a military conference on Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would be prepared to participate in a European mission to train security forces in Mali.

Following the meeting with Westerwelle, Prodi tried to downplay the military aspect. Problems in Mali were primarily of a "political and ethnic character" that could not be solved by military means, he stressed. Much less could there be a "direct intervention by Europe" given that the problem was one "mainly concerning Africans." The Mali government had to assume responsibility and set an example "for the entire region."

Westerwelle implied that good governance had been missing in the past. For that reason, he argued the country could only be stabilized if political processes took place, taking into account "the legitimate interests of people in northern Mali, too."

Malian refugee women walk inside the Mentao refugee camp on July 26, 2012, 185 km north of Ouagadougou. Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore plans to return home on July 27 after a two-month stay in Paris where he travelled for treatment after being attacked by protesters in Bamako. AFP PHOTO / AHMED OUOBA (Photo credit should read AHMED OUOBA/AFP/GettyImages)

Some warn that a military intervention will endanger refugees

No German aid without African support

Westerwelle explicitly ruled out either a European combat mission for Mali, or supplying weapons. Instead, all the discussions centered on a training mission and possibly logistical and financial support.

But Westerwelle added that both of these options required a UN mandate as well as support from ECOWAS and other African states, especially Mali's direct neighbors. Westerwelle said he hoped that specific decisions will be taken when EU foreign ministers meet on November 19. At the same time, Westerwelle stressed that Germany was already giving 57 million euros ($74 million) in financial aid to Malian refugees fleeing to neigboring countries.

Wolfgang Gehrcke, MP for the socialist Left party in the Bundestag, has since warned of a military escalation in Mali. This, he says, would intensify the refugees' suffering in the region. He added that it was an "insult to elected MPs" that Merkel chose to announce a "military operation in Mali" at a Bundeswehr conference, rather than in parliament.

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