CONOR POPE, in Strasbourg IRISH TIMES
The European Union is to priortise plans for a military training mission in Mali to help the government there combat Islamist rebels, the European Union’s head of foreign affairs Catherine Ashton said today.
She was speaking at an emergency hearing at the European Parliament in Strasbourg which had been requested by number of MEPs. It comes ahead of an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council meeting which has been scheduled for Thursday.
Ms Ashton told the plenary session of the parliament that the upheaval in Mali had seen its population terrorised by the rebels. She added the conflict presented a significant security risk to Europe, pointing to use of seized land by the rebels for arms smuggling and drug trafficking.
She said EU governments were in the process of putting together a range of measures to help Mali, but did not give details. They are likely to be outlined in greater detail when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels later this week.
“Colleagues have put together a package of measures that will provide immediate and longer-term help to the Malian government and people,” she said.
While the EU has ruled out sending combat troops to Mali, it does plan to send military trainers to assist the Malian army. The first trainers were set to arrive by the beginning of March but as the fighting intensified earlier this week and the French government intervenes, proposals were drafted to bring forward the arrival of military aid by about two weeks.
“We’re going to adapt accordingly the details of our European mission” and send preparatory elements of the mission quicker than previously planned, Ms Ashton told MEPs