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January 29, 2013

International Donors Pledge Aid for Mali Force

by VOA News

International donors have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to support a force to fight Islamist militants in northern Mali.

The pledges came at a conference Tuesday in Addis Ababa, where the United States promised $96 million, the African Union promised $50 million and Germany said it would add $20 million for the effort.

Other donors included the West African bloc ECOWAS, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria and Ethiopia.

In Tokyo, Japan offered $120 million for the force, to be known as the African-led International Mission to Mali (AFISMA).

On Monday, French and Malian troops captured the historic Malian city of Timbuktu as part of their offensive against Islamist militants who seized control of northern Mali last year.

A number of AFISMA troops have arrived in Mali but have played little role in the fighting.

ECOWAS communications director Sonny Ugoh says the planned 3,300-troop AFISMA force could expand to between 5,000 and 6,000 troops capable of combat and helping secure the gains made by France and Mali.

"What is important is that there should be an expeditious deployment so that we can support the French and the Malians who are making quite some progress in dealing with the situation in the north, and we need some men, some boots on the ground to hold territor,. he said."

France began a military offensive in Mali earlier this month after the rebels began pushing toward the capital, Bamako.  In recent days, French and Malian forces have also retaken the northern city of Gao.

French President Francois Hollande said late Monday that the French and Malian troops are "winning in Mali."

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Also Monday, a spokesman for the secular Tuareg rebel group MNLA told VOA that the group's fighters now control Kidal and the nearby town of Tessalit.  There has been no independent confirmation of that claim.

The Tuareg rebels first launched the rebellion in the north last January.  They later joined with the Islamists to seize control of the region following a coup in March, but later split in a dispute over the imposition of strict Islamic law.

Timbuktu's mayor said Monday that Islamists fleeing the town set fire to a library housing thousands of historic manuscripts.  Officials say they do not yet know the extent of the damage.

The U.N. cultural agency UNESCO lists Timbuktu as a World Heritage site for its ancient mosques and shrines, some of which date back to the 15th century.  But Islamist group Ansar Dine considers the sites sacrilegious, and the militants destroyed some mausoleums while they controlled the city.