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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."