World to mull 'long-term' Mali role at Brussels talks

With beleaguered Mali likely to need aid for the "long haul" on many fronts, international players meeting Tuesday in Brussels will mull how to shoulder its return to stability once the military campaign ends, EU officials said.

Some 45 delegations are due at day-long ministerial-level talks of the "follow-up group" on Mali, including the African Union, United Nations, European Union, west African regional body ECOWAS, banks, aid groups and indivudual nations.

"When a state falls apart it takes time to put it together again, like Humpty Dumpty," said a senior official speaking on condition of anonymity.

Mali initially "needs a secure environment" to restore its territorial integrity and return to constitutional government after last year's takeover of its vast northern reaches by heavily-armed radical Islamists in the wake of a military coup, he added.

"The jihadists are determined," he said. "It's going to take years to achieve the end outcome. But I hope it will only take months to achieve a secure enough environment."

At the Brussels talks, which begin at 0930 GMT and wind up at 1700 GMT, officials will consider further funding and training for the African-led African force for Mali (AFISMA), as well as plans to send an around 450-strong EU training mission (EUTM) to train the poor nation's ramshackle army.

So far, 16 EU nations, plus Norway, have agreed to contribute troops to the EU training force, which is to launch in Bamako on February 12, with training to start in April.

Contributor nations to the EUTM, which will have a 15-month mandate, include Britain, France, Germany, Poland and Sweden. Details on its make-up as well as its rules of engagement are to be finalised by the end of the week, an EU source said.

As French-led military efforts to rout the Islamist fighters continue on the ground, Tuesday's talks will look at assisting the return to civilian rule and economic stability, with the EU poised to unlock 250 million euros (almost $340 million) of aid, frozen after the March coup.

"The resumption of aid will be progressive," said French Development Minister Pascal Canfin, who will attend the discussions.

"Funds for humanitarian aid and development will depend on the progress of the road-map," he said, referring to a post-war plan agreed by the Malian parliament last week to hold elections and kick off talks with some rebel groups.

Mali's Foreign Minister Tieman Coulibaly will head talks on behalf of the Bamako authorities.