As French and African troops continue the battle against Islamist rebels in northern Mali, attention is turning to the task of reconstruction and the country’s economic development once the military offensive is over.
Senior ministers and local authorities from France and Mali have been meeting in the French city of Lyon to plan some 300 local projects.
“We are in the process of winning the war. We also have to win the peace. And winning the peace involved a whole series of acts to help democracy and development. And, of course, local authorities, the French state and Europe, international authorities too, all must aid this development. To put it simply, we must now set about securing the country,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
The conference aims to target needs more precisely. Projects currently focus on help in education, health, water provision and training.
France says it intends to hand over military operations to African forces, though some believe a total withdrawal unlikely.
“For as long as it is necessary, we will ask France for help and assistance. But we want to rebuild rapidly the operational capacity of the (Malian) army in such a way that we do not need to have foreign troops in our country for too long,” said Mali’s Foreign Minister Tieman Coulibaly.
Euronews correspondent François Chignac, attending the conference, said:
“It remains to be seen whether the timetable for French withdrawal is realistic. For in spite of some reassuring announcements, notably those about help for democracy and development, this schedule could clash with the reality on the ground.”