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West African bloc calls for international support in Mali

West Africa's main political bloc has called for more international support as it prepares to join the French intervention in Mali. Paris has said that African troops must lead the fight against the Islamists.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) held an emergency meeting in Ivory Coast on Saturday to hammer out the final details of a planned intervention to oust Islamist militants from northern Mali.

So far, only 100 soldiers from the planned 5,800-strong African force have reached Mali's capital, Bamako. France, which launched an UN-backed unilateral intervention in Mali last week, currently has 2,000 troops on the ground. Paris has indicated that its deployment could rise to 2,500, but has said that regional forces must ultimately take the lead.

"France was obliged to intervene very, very rapidly; otherwise there would have been no more Mali," said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who attended the ECOWAS meeting in Abidjan. "But it is well understood that it is the Africans that must pick up the baton."

Call for broader international support

The African force was originally scheduled to deploy to Mali no earlier than September. But the rapid advance by Islamist forces has brought the crisis in Mali to a head, forcing ECOWAS to rapidly finalize its plans for an intervention.

ECOWAS President Kadre Desire Ouedraogo warned, however, that the bloc could not fund an intervention on its own. He said that some ECOWAS members "had failed to pay their financial contributions."

Watch video 01:11

France steps up Mali intervention

"Due to financial shortfalls ECOWAS is currently facing, we cannot alone support the African military operation in Mali," Ouedraogo said.

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, the current chairman of ECOWAS, called on the international community to support the bloc's efforts.

"The hour has come for a broader commitment by the major powers and more countries and organizations to the military operations to show greater solidarity with France and Africa," said Ouattara, whose election to the Ivorian presidency was secured by a French military intervention in 2011.

With the support of French airstrikes, Malian forces have managed to recapture the central city of Konna. Meanwhile, there are conflicting reports about the status of Diabaly, which the Islamists seized in a counteroffensive on Monday.

Malian sources have said that the city has been retaken by government forces, but French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has denied these reports.

Germany debates Mali contribution

In Germany, the head of parliament has caused a political stir by suggesting that Berlin may have to contribute more to support its French ally in Mali. So far, Germany has sent two Transall transport aircraft to help ferry ECOWAS troops and supplies but only to the capital Bamako, and not deeper within Mali.

In an interview with the regional Saarbrücker Zeitung newspaper, parliamentary president Norbert Lammert said that he views the deployment of cargo plans as "more of a signal to demonstrate that we are not going to take the position that we did in Libya." Germany did not support the 2011 NATO intervention that ousted Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

"I cannot imagine that anybody considers that to be the German contribution," said Lammert, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union.

Birgit Homburger, the vice chairwoman of the business-oriented Free Democratic Party (FDP), Merkel's coalition partners, called Lammert's comments "irresponsible."

"It is not the job of the parliamentary president to make recommendations regarding this question," Homburger told the news agency dpa.

"It is irresponsible to push the German military into a deployment with a high potential for escalation, given how unclear the situation is," Homburger said.

Rainer Arnold of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Omid Nouripour of the Green Party have also suggested that Germany may have to make a bigger contribution to the intervention in Mali. According to a recent opinion survey by the pollster Emnid, 59 percent of Germans would oppose a military engagement by Germany in Mali.

The two Bundeswehr Transalls arrived in Bamako on Saturday evening local time, bringing with them French medical supplies from Bordeaux.

slk/ipj (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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