Baird, envoys to press for restoration of democracy in Mali

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is set to meet Wednesday with officials from France, Mali and Ivory Coast. (OLIVIER JEAN For The Globe and Mail)

Canada has convened envoys from countries involved in the developing war in Mali as it presses the African nation to restore democracy.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird will meet Wednesday with ambassadors from France, Mali and Ivory Coast, which currently chairs the West African regional bloc ECOWAS that is preparing a force of 3,300 troops to help confront Islamist fighters in northern Mali.

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Supplies for French forces arrived in a steady stream on Tuesday, as Canada’s contribution of a transport plane took off from Canadian Forces Base Trenton.

A coup in March removed elected President Amadou Touré from power. One month later, Tuareg nationalists and Islamists seized Mali’s sparsely populated north.

The Canadian government believes the military coup was a significant factor in causing the current crisis.

The Wednesday meeting is part of the diplomatic efforts on Mali that Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised last week when he met African Union chair Thomas Boni Yayi, the President of Benin.

It is combined with Canadian diplomatic efforts in Bamako, Mali’s capital, to press the post-coup transitional government to restore democracy – a reminder that Western nations do not want that agenda, and planned elections, to be forgotten in the rush to war.

While countries like the United States, Britain and Canada, have applauded France’s move to intervene to stop the advance of Islamist fighters, they have also worried that the so-called political track to encourage stability in Mali is being ignored.

Mr. Baird has this weekend tasked Canada’s ambassador to Mali, Louis de Lorimier, with formally registering with Mali’s government Canada’s concern that democracy is not forgotten.

“We want to encourage them not to lose sight of, or minimize, the need for Mali to return to democratic and constitutional rule,” said Mr. Baird’s spokesman, Rick Roth.

That formal diplomatic message being delivered by Canadians in Bamako is being co-ordinated with the United States, whose diplomats are delivering a similar message, an official said – an effort to provide a sense of wider Western concern.

Many Western nations feel restoring democracy is equally important to restoring stability, after Islamist rebels are set back.

Mr. Roth said the military takeover “provided Islamist extremists with a window that has had devastating consequences.”

The Tuareg nationalists were marginalized in July by the Islamist Ansar Dine, allied to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and many now feel lasting peace in the north will require an elected government in Bamako making a credible political agreement with moderate Tuaregs.

Mr. Baird’s message that restoring constitutional rule is key to rebuilding stability is likely to figure prominently when he meets with the foreign envoys – ambassadors Ami Diallo Traoré from Mali, Philippe Zeller from France which has launched a muscular military intervention,and N’Goran Kouamé from Ivory Coast. which currently chairs ECOWAS.

Mali, France and the ECOWAS nations are likely to be consumed with the immediate demands of the military mission, but Western nations that are not as directly involved are concerned that the political track be revived.

But the meeting is chiefly, according to officials, to be a session where representatives of key countries involved in Mali can brief Mr. Baird and where he can offer Canadian views. “This will be very much a listening session,” an official said.

 

CONTRIBUTORS TO THE MALI MISSION

France has 800 troops in Mali for operation Serval and that number is expected to increase to 2,500. The French force also includes Gazelle helicopter gunships. Six Mirage 2000D fighter jets based in Chad and four Rafale fighter jets from France have taken part in the bombing campaign, supported by two C-135 refuelling tankers.

An African force, drawn from members of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, is now being rushed to arrive in the next few weeks.

Nigeria, the biggest country in the region, will send 900 troops.

Burkina Faso, Mali’s neighbour, said it will send 500 troops and post 500 to control its border.

Niger, Togo and Senegal each plan to send 500 troops.

Benin will send 300, Guinea 144, and Chad has pledged to send troops but not yet specified the number.

The European Union says it is speeding up preparation for a 400-member troop training mission in Mali, which will likely start in late February or early March. Like Canada, France’s allies in the U.S. and Europe have all said they will not send combat troops.

The U.S. is providing intelligence-gathering to the French. U.S. officials would not rule out having American aircraft land in Mali.

Britain is sending two C-17 aircraft to carry troops and military equipment. Denmark is sending a C-130 transport aircraft. Belgium will send transport helicopters. Germany will offer logistical, humanitarian and medical support.

With files from Associated Press

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