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WAR REPORT
French defence minister urges Syria power transfer
by Staff Writers
Abu Dhabi (AFP) Feb 16, 2013


EU approves military mission to Mali
Brussels (AFP) Feb 18, 2013 - European Union foreign ministers on Monday formally approved the launch of a 500-strong EU military mission to train the Malian army as Brussels also announced the holding of a major international conference on the country's future.

A first group of 70 EU military personnel arrived in the west African nation 10 days ago and Monday's ministerial greenlight was the final phase in setting up the European Union Training Mission (EUTM), which has a 15-month mandate to shape up the ramshackle Malian army.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the mission "is going to be of enormous importance in support of the Malian army," a poorly equipped and trained force without the capacity to maintain the country's territorial integrity.

The 27 EU nations first approved the notion of a training mission in December to boost the army's ability to fight Islamist rebels who last year seized control of the country's vast arid north.

But its launch was accelerated after the surprise intervention of France in its former colony on January 11 to stop the insurgents marching south on the capital.

Some 16 countries from the EU as well as Norway have agreed to take part in the EUTM, which will have a 12.3-million-euro budget, with each contributor nation financing its own troops.

Around half of the troops will be trainers, the remainder providing protection and administrative and medical backup.

European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso later Monday met Mali Premier Diango Sissoko and announced the EU would host a donors conference in mid-May in Brussels which would reinforce efforts to help stabilise the country, both politically and economically.

Barroso stressed that EU aid will "support Mali's transition process" and highlighted the importance of planned elections in July as "a real opportunity to set the country on the right path."

Sissoko said the conference would bring together "emergency aid and development aid."

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Saturday called for urgent action to bring about a power transfer in Syria that excludes President Bashar al-Assad.

"Given the enormous price paid already by the Syrian people... it is more urgent than ever to act to overcome differences in favour of a political transition," Le Drian told a security forum in the United Arab Emirates.

He said the change should be "a transition in which president Assad would no longer keep his place".

Le Drian spoke of a "tragedy" and accused Assad and his family "of clinging to power by multiplying the daily massacres and atrocities".

The minister's remarks came after the umbrella opposition National Council on Friday refused to accept Assad in any talks on ending Syria's 23-month conflict, as part of a "framework" it has drawn up for a political solution.

China and Russia have blocked three resolutions at the UN Security Council that would have threatened sanctions against the Assad regime over its brutal crackdown on democracy protests that erupted in March 2011.

The crackdown triggered an armed uprising, and the United Nations says the conflict has killed nearly 70,000 people.

On Iran, the French minister stressed the need to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, and said sanctions imposed on the Islamic republic were aimed at pushing it into serious negotiations.

"The progress of Iran's programme only adds to our concerns" about the unacceptable "possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear arms," he told the Gulf Defence Conference held in Abu Dhabi.

Le Drian said it was the responsibility of countries to ensure that Iran's suspect nuclear programme "fails" in order to guarantee security for all.

The sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union "appear to me to be the way to bring Iran to negotiate seriously," he added.

The International Energy Agency said on Wednesday that Western sanctions on Iran had slashed its oil export revenues by $40 billion in 2012 as production hit a three-decade low.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes.

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