/ 16 January 2013

Germany to supply Mali with two transport planes

Chancellor Angela Merkel has set to discuss the German commitment with Cote d'Ivoire's President Alassane Ouattara.
Chancellor Angela Merkel with Cote d'Ivoire's President Alassane Ouattara.

"Germany will provide logistical support based on the situation on the ground," Defence Minister Thomas de Maizière told reporters on Wednesday, saying the planes would primarily be used to move African troops backing up a French military offensive into the capital Bamako.

He said Berlin would send the two aircraft to help the deployment by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) "soon", when technical details are ironed out.

De Maizière noted that France was already meeting its transport needs with the help of other allies including Britain.

"We believe that we are providing an appropriate, comparable and sensible – as well as a new – contribution in response to this conflict," he said.

He said Chancellor Angela Merkel would discuss the German commitment when she meets with Côte d'Ivoire's President Alassane Ouattara, current head of Ecowas, later on Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who joined De Maizière at the hastily called press conference, said the assistance "shows that we are living up to our responsibilities".

He also pledged €1-million in humanitarian aid from Berlin for Mali's beleaguered civilian population, estimating that some 4.2-million people were in need of assistance.

The aid will go mainly to refugees fleeing the violence, via German aid organisation Welthungerhilfe, he said.

Both ministers said that the Bundestag lower house of parliament would not need to vote on the deployment of the Transall planes, but De Maizière said the commitment had been discussed with senior lawmakers.

He held out the prospect of further assistance should conditions in Mali worsen.

3 000 soldiers back the French
"If the situation changes, in Bamako or due to other circumstances, we will quickly not only discuss matters but also seek a mandate if necessary," he said, citing a troop training mission as a possible example.

A first contingent of 190 Nigerian troops was due to arrive in Bamako on Wednesday as part of a regional force of over 3 000 soldiers, to back up the French air and ground offensive launched on January 11.

Mali has been effectively split in two since March 2012, when extremists took advantage of a short-lived coup in Bamako and an offensive launched by Tuareg separatists in the north to seize half of the country.

Western countries had voiced fears that Mali's north – a desert region larger than France – could become al-Qaeda's leading global safe haven and be used to launch attacks on targets in Europe.

France intervened in its former colony after the extremists last week pushed south toward Bamako, seizing the town of Konna in the government-held centre. – Sapa-AFP