West backs France′s unilateral Mali intervention | Africa | DW | 15.01.2013
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West backs France's unilateral Mali intervention

There has been a positive response from both the EU and NATO to France's unilateral action in Mali. But there is also a clear reluctance to be drawn into a military operation in West Africa.

The European Commission was evidently taken by surprise by France's military intervention in Mali but has now expressed support. When a journalist asked on Monday what the Commission's position was, Michael Mann, spokesman for the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, seemed a bit uncertain. "We of course support actions undertaken by our member states", was his extraordinarily general reply.

There are various tasks for different European states and organizations in the region, he continued. Also, nothing would change concerning the EU's planned military training mission in Mali. "It remains relevant. Nothing has changed except that it has become more urgent for the mission to begin," Mann said.

No EU military mission

The EU had already decided last autumn to send some 200 trainers to Mali. Their task is to train the weak Malian government troops and soldiers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to repulse attacks by the rebels and retake the north. According to Mann, the training mission should begin in "late February or early March." That could indicate a minor speeding up of previous plans.

Germany intends to participate by sending Bundeswehr trainers.

France's President Francois Hollande REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

French President Hollande has received widespread backing for the operation

In November 2012, Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere stipulated in Brussels that a condition for German participation was that there should be "a clear distinction between training by the EU, including Germany, and an African military offensive." The German government has now again ruled out any German involvement in a military operation, as did Michael Mann for the EU. However the bloc may provide financial assistance for the planned African military operation.

Visit cancelled

Little was heard from the top echelons of the EU on Monday. Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso remained silent as did Catherine Ashton. Barroso's spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde said that, despite the latest events, Barroso's assessment of the situation in Mali had not changed. His view was still that the situation called for "a demonstration of our ability to help Mali recover its sovereignty, re-establish control over its territory and strive for a return to constitutional order."

There was also no word from the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz. It was only EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy who addressed the topic during talks with Egyptian President Morsi. At a press conference in Cairo, he said it was important "that the Malian government should regain full control over its national territory and that the process of reconciliation in the country should make progress."

Mali's interim government President Dioncounda Traore Photo: HABIB KOUYATE/AFP/Getty Images)

Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore has cancelled a visit to Brussels

A visit to Brussels by Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore, planned for Thursday this week, has been cancelled.

France goes it alone

Like the EU, NATO also views France's unilateral action in a positive but passive way. NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu welcomed the fact that "France has acted swiftly to repulse the offensive by terrorist groups in Mali." NATO hopes "these efforts will help re-establish the rule of law in Mali," she said.

NATO is not planning any action of its own. And France does not seem to be seeking this. French NATO general Jean-Paul Palomeros said at a press conference in Brussels that the Mali intervention was a purely French operation which had nothing to do with NATO. He said he was "very proud, that France is taking full responsibility in the fight against terrorism in this part of the world."

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