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WAR REPORT
First EU military trainers arrive in Mali: French army
by Staff Writers
Bamako (AFP) Feb 08, 2013


Gunfight between Mali troops wounds several in capital
Bamako, Mali (AFP) Feb 08, 2013 - A gunfight erupted Friday in the Malian capital as soldiers attacked a camp of elite paratroopers loyal to ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure, military sources and witnesses told AFP.

"From 6:00 am (local and GMT) heavily armed soldiers, from all units, attacked the camp," said Yaya Bouare, one of the "Red Beret" soldiers inside the camp that was attacked. "There are many injured inside the camp."

The latest clash between feuding Mali army factions came on the same day as a suicide bomber targeted soldiers in the northern town of Gao following the ouster the of radical Islamists.

Bamako residents living near the barracks confirmed the attack and one of them said the "Red Berets" had "fired shots in the air" overnight.

Bouare said the attack was linked to a declaration by army chief of defence staff General Tahirou Dembele on national television earlier this week, who ordered the paratroopers to the frontline of a French-led war with radical Islamists in the north.

"As we have this problem in the north on our hands, you will go and fight with your brothers in arms", he said, adding he had decided to incorporate the elite soldiers within other units.

But the paratroopers refused to join their new units, or to leave their camp.

The "Red Berets" formed part of an elite presidential guard protecting Toure, who was ousted in March last year by a group of "Green Berets" -- infantry and other units.

The coup came after soldiers from Mali's poor and ramshackle army were humiliated in the north by well-armed Tuareg fighters who launched a rebellion for independence in January.

A month after the presidential ouster, the paratroopers launched a failed counter-coup and fighting between the feuding factions left about 20 people dead.

With Bamako in disarray, the Tuareg and Islamist allies seized the entire north before the extremists chased away the secular Tuareg rebels and installed a brutal form of sharia law.

The Islamists' hold on the vast semi-arid zone, which sparked fears in the West it could become a new haven for Al-Qaeda-linked radicals, prompted France to intervene a month ago to drive the extremists out.

The first group of 70 EU military instructors, deployed to train Mali's deeply divided and underfunded army to take on Islamist rebels, arrived Friday in the capital, a French officer said.

"We are here to enable the Malian army to hold all the nation's territory and so that Mali can have a good army at its disposal, prepared to engage," said Colonel Bruno Heluin, the commander of the first group of what will ultimately be 500 European trainers.

The arrival of the trainers in Bamako was overshadowed by a gunfight which erupted between feuding Malian soldiers, a sign of tensions left over after a March 2012 coup which has left the nation weakened as conflict rages in the north.

Several were reported injured when soldiers attacked a camp of elite Red Beret paratroopers loyal to ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure, who had protested being absorbed into other units for the battle in the north.

Bertrand Soret of the EU in Mali said the 70 trainers, from Spain, Britain, Romania, Sweden, Finland and France were "forerunners of the mission coming to train and improve the chain of command in the Malian army."

"Their mission is to set up the base which will house the 500 European Union instructors."

He said the mission's training was aimed at "restoring the armed forces' military capacity with the objective of allowing them to lead combat operations aimed at restoring the territorial integrity of the country."

French General Francois Lecointre, who is leading the mission, explained there was "a real need to recreate the Malian army, which is in a state of advanced disrepair."

"The soldiers are badly trained, badly paid and under-equipped", lacking arms, transport equipment and communications equipment, he said.

The 27 EU nations approved the training mission in December, and it was accelerated after the surprise intervention of France in its former colony on January 11, to stop an advance north by the Islamists.

The mandate of the mission is 15 months, renewable, and 16 countries from the EU as well as Norway will be taking part.

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