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German and French foreign ministers pledge support for Mali

France's Jean-Marc Ayrault and Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier have started their West African tour in Mali. Both have underlined their countries' commitment to the further stabilization of the region.

Following a delay of more than three hours due to a burst airplane tire, foreign ministers Jean-Marc Ayrault and Frank-Walter Steinmeier

arrived in Mali late on Sunday.

"We have come on this symbolic visit to demonstrate France and Germany's determination to support the ongoing peace and development processes," Ayrault said shortly after arriving at the airport in Mali's capital, Bamako.

Steinmeier also praised Mali's peace agreement between government and rebel groups, but cautioned that there was "still much to do to actually implement the peace process."

For several months in 2012, northern Mali was taken over by Islamic rebel groups before being recaptured in early 2013 with the help of French-led troops.

"Without the intervention, today Mali would be under the control of terrorists," said Ayrault. The West-African nation still struggles with

terrorist attacks and kidnappings from extremist groups.

The two foreign ministers are set to meet with Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita later on Monday and visit with German, French and Dutch soldiers from the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA.

The German Bundeswehr

has been involved in Mali for the past three years as part of international operations with the UN as well as an EU military training mission.

Around 230 German peacekeeping troops are currently deployed near the northern city of Gao, while 200 soldiers have been deployed to the south as part of the EUTM mission to train Malian forces. Germany's parliament is expected to make a decision mid-May on whether or not to extend its military operation in Mali.

On Tuesday, Ayrault and Steinmeier will travel to the capital of Niger to discuss security issues, as well as the movement of refugees from Africa to Europe.

rs/msh (AFP, dpa)

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German and French foreign ministers in Mali

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