EU frees 20 mln euros to restore stability in Mali

The European Union on Friday announced fresh aid worth 20 million euros to help restore law and order in Mali as well as the return of basic state services such as education after months of trouble.

The aid comes on top of a quarter-billion-euro EU package to also be released as authorities move to restore democracy in the beleaguered west African nation.

Friday's aid is to be used to restore law enforcement and security, specially in northern parts of the country where French-led forces have routed heavily-armed Islamist insurgents who seized control last year and imposed a brutal form of sharia law.

In the vast arid north, the aid will pay for vehicles and communications equipmenet for instance, while in the capital Bamako and other urban areas funding will go to protect against the threat of attacks, and support efforts to reduce radicalisation and violent extremism.

The EU funds too will help the restoration of state services such as schools and medical centres as the interim government struggles to regain sovereignty across the entire nation after the expulsion of Islamist fighters from the north.

Provided through a special conflict prevention fund, the cash will also be used in efforts at dialogue and reconciliation at local level as well as the organisation of elections which the government plans to hold as early as July.

As Europe fights to eliminate the terrorist and criminal threat posed by heavily-armed Islamist groups close to Al-Qaeda in its own backyard, the EU has become heavily involved in Mali.

A 500-strong military mission to train the Mali army kicks off officially next week and the EU is also helping fund the African-led AFISMA force fighting alonside the French as well as maintaining counter-terror projects in the Sahel area.

"In the coming weeks the EU will take further decisions to contribute to international efforts in Mali," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.