BRUSSELS (AFP) – Mali urged the international community to stand by its side to drive out Islamist extremists from its territory as the United Nations, African Union and other global players met in Brussels on Tuesday.
"The threat concerns all civilized countries," Mali's Foreign Minister Tieman Coulibaly said as he arrived for talks to anchor long-term peace and stability once the military offensive against Islamist rebel forces is over.
"The entire world must gather around us to chase the jihadists from our soil," he said as some 45 delegations from African and European nations, along with donor and aid groups, stepped into the meeting of the "Mali support and follow-up group."
"We need to prepare the future," said a senior EU official ahead of the talks. "When a state falls apart it takes time to put it together again, like Humpty Dumpty.
At the top of the immediate political agenda will be the dispatch of human rights observers, amid fears of rights abuse and revenge killings, as well as financing the deployment of some 8,000 African troops.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden this week joined President Francois Hollande in calling for a UN mission to eventually take over the baton in Mali from the African-led force once French forces move out.
"We are favorable to this," said Ivorian African Integration Minister Ali Coulibaly, whose country chairs the west African regional body ECOWAS.
Diplomats say there is a clear need for a UN force to police the country as the ramshackle Malian army remains incapable of re-conquering the remote corners of the vast arid nation, while the French do no want to stay for the long haul.
After a three-week campaign by French-led forces drove the extremists from strongholds including the cities of Timbuktu and Gao, French fighter jets have pounded Islamist supply bases in Mali's mountainous northeast, near the Algerian border.
"It is about destroying their rear bases, their depots," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Monday.
"They have taken refuge in the north and the northeast but they can only stay there long-term if they have ways to replenish their supplies."
The radical Islamists who controlled northern Mali for 10 months, taking advantage of a coup in Bamako in March, have fled into the Adrar des Ifoghas massif in the Kidal region, a craggy mountain landscape honeycombed with caves.
The Brussels talks will consider further support and training for the African force for Mali (AFISMA), as the 27-nation EU firms up a plan to send a 450-strong mission to train the poor nation's ramshackle army.
So far, 16 EU nations, plus Norway, have agreed to contribute troops to the EU Training Mission in Mali (EUTM), due to launch in Bamako on February 12, with training to start in April. But it still lacks sufficient numbers and medical back-up to kick off.
The talks too will look at assisting the return to civilian rule over the entire territory of Mali by helping to organize elections that President Dioncounda Traore has vowed to hold by July 31.
"This is an ambitious timetable," said the senior EU official.
To ensure such pledges are held, the EU will dangle an offer to unlock 250 million euros (almost $340 million) of aid, frozen after the March coup in what was once one of west Africa's most stable democracies.
"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.