Plan to send Irish troops to Mali for EU mission

Malian foreign minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly speaking in Brussels yesterday after an EU ministerial meeting on the conflict in Mali. Photograph: François Lenoir/Reuters

Malian foreign minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly speaking in Brussels yesterday after an EU ministerial meeting on the conflict in Mali. Photograph: François Lenoir/Reuters

Wed, Feb 6, 2013, 00:00

A proposal to send Irish soldiers to Mali to help train local forces is expected to be brought to Cabinet by the Minister for Justice and Defence in the coming weeks.

The proposal, which needs Dáil and Seanad approval, would see about six Irish personnel take part in an EU training mission to the country, in co-operation with other member states.

The EU announced plans to send a training mission to the north African country in December.

France is currently leading military action in the region.

The EU mission will comprise about 250 trainers and a further 200 “force protectors”. The mission is expected to be up and running by the end of next month.

Ireland is involved in a similar training operation in Somalia, headquartered in Uganda. The mission is led by an Irish commander, Brig Gen Gerald Aherne, who recently succeeded Col Michael Beary. Last month the EU extended the training mission’s mandate for two years, with the mission expected to move its base from Uganda to Somalia.

The proposal to send Irish troops to Mali, which could be brought to Cabinet as early as next week, would see the State partner with other countries, likely to include France and Sweden. Britain, Spain and Germany are among the other member states likely to take part in the mission.

Minister of State Joe Costello, who was in Brussels yesterday to discuss the EU response to the conflict in Mali, declined to confirm if Ireland would participate in the mission, though he said it was under “active consideration”.

Humanitarian response

Speaking after the meeting, which was attended by the Malian prime minister, foreign minister and representatives of the UN and African Union, Mr Costello said the need for a humanitarian as well as a security response to the situation in Mali had been stressed.

“It’s important that the provision of humanitarian aid and the political process keep pace,” he said, noting the progress that had been made in Mali in preparing for elections.

Next week Mr Costello will chair an informal meeting of EU development ministers in Dublin at which the humanitarian response to the crisis in Mali will be discussed. An EU report on the humanitarian situation will be presented at the meeting.

The EU is withholding some long-term aid to the country, though it has disbursed emergency and humanitarian funds. An interim government is in place following a military coup last year.

Funding

Ireland provided more than €11 million in humanitarian funding to the Sahel region – the semi-arid region of north Africa – between 2009 and 2011.

Speaking after yesterday’s meeting, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said the EU had delivered on its promise to help Mali, pledging €300 million in the coming year. “All of us are committed to supporting and accompanying the people of Mali on their path back to freedom and development,” she said.

Islamist militants Four suspects arrested near Paris

French police arrested four suspected Islamist militants near Paris yesterday as part of an investigation into the recruitment of volunteers by al-Qaeda insurgents in Mali, interior minister Manuel Valls said. France’s intervention in Mali to rid its former colony of Islamist fighters has prompted the authorities to increase security against possible reprisal attacks on its interests in mainland France and abroad.

Anti-terrorism judge Marc Trévidic, who is in charge of the operation, said last month that France needed more robust local policing, better intelligence sharing and the ability to infiltrate small radical Islamist groups if it hopes to fight new security threats on its soil.

Analysts say the insurgency that seized the north of Mali is paving the way for attacks on France as more French Muslims of African origin were finding a cause in the conflict.

“France is really being singled out at the moment,” said Anne Giudicelli, consultant with national security specialists Terrorisc.

“It’s being accused of wanting to occupy Muslim territory and that could clearly push some individuals to take action, or encourage others to build up a network,” she said.

A police source said three of the four men arrested yesterday were Franco-Congolese and one was Malian.

Mr Valls said the arrests had come after a long investigation into al-Qaeda recruitment rings, which was led by Mr Trévidic. French anti-terrorism judges have opened a number of preliminary investigations into individuals suspected of links to what they say are Malian terrorist cells.

– (Reuters)