Japan PM supports Mali's fight against Islamist militants

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday expressed support for Mali's struggle against Islamist militants, reiterating Japan's newly unveiled policy of extending $1 billion in development and humanitarian assistance to the Sahel region over the next five years, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

During a bilateral meeting in Yokohama on the fringes of an international gathering on Africa's development, Dioncounda Traore, Mali's interim president, expressed his gratitude for Japan's assistance to the West African country so far and expressed hopes for further support.

Mali's leader stressed that his country is in the process of overcoming a challenge to its territorial integrity, and that the government plans to restore constitutional order by holding elections.

Abe emphasized the importance of restoring constitutional order in Mali soon in a bid to bring stability to the country in the long term.

Japan has already begun providing $38 million in humanitarian aid for Mali and $6 million to assist the multinational African-led International Support Mission to Mali, or Afisma, which is operating in the country.

France intervened in Mali militarily early this year in support of Malian forces as they fought Islamist fighters controlling the country's north. Traore has been Mali's acting president since April 2012, after his predecessor stepped down as president and left the country.

The Japanese leader also met separately with Mauritius Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam and Zambian President Michael Sata on the sidelines of the three-day international conference, which wrapped up on Monday after adopting the so-called "Yokohama Declaration."