Mali seeks to raise €2bn at donor conference

Brussels - Mali on Wednesday aimed to raise €2bn at an international donor conference to fund its recovery after Islamist militants marched on Bamako this year, prompting a French military intervention.

The European Union launched the funding drive Tuesday with a pledge of €520m.

A total of 103 delegations were due at the conference in Brussels with 10 national leaders expected to attend.

The funding is for a recovery programme that Mali was to formally unveil on Wednesday. Its priorities are to include organizing new elections and decentralizing and re-launching the economy. Justice, education, and health and gender issues were to also be stressed.

The overall cost of the programme was estimated at €4.3bn, of which Mali said it could fund about €2.3bn.

But EU officials and advocacy groups warned that the current political crisis must not detract from Mali's ongoing humanitarian needs in a region troubled by severe droughts, food insecurity and an estimated half-million displaced people.

"Rebuilding Mali is a long road," EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said. "The donor conference means just a first step because to return to a normal life, you need basic things: electricity, sanitation, water, schools and health care."

Marietou Diaby of Oxfam said that since the crisis erupted last year, international attention had focused mainly on security and counterterrorism, an approach that must be widened.

"Donors must learn the lessons from crises such as Afghanistan and Somalia that a narrow approach to winning a military conflict is never enough to achieve sustainable long-term peace and security," Diaby said.

"Donors need to help build the foundations for genuine prosperity in Mali; otherwise, they'll have left the job half done," Diaby said.

With French troops now withdrawing from Mali, the United Nations has decided to send peacekeepers to help its government face the Islamists in the north and restore stability.

The EU has also begun training Malian troops in preparation for the country to fully take over its own security. More than 20 European countries are contributing to the operation, aimed at training an initial 3 000 soldiers.