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Catherine Ashton

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission

Speech on the situation in Mali

European Parliament

Strasbourg, 17 April 2012

Junior army officers overthrew President Touré in a coup on 21st March. The takeover grew from a mutiny demanding better weapons and better leadership to fight the Tuareg rebellion advancing across the north.

Following strong leadership by the West African regional organisation, ECOWAS, as well as continuous pressure from the international community, including the EU and the UN, an agreement was reached on 6th April for a return to civilian rule with the appointment of the Speaker of the Assembly as interim Head of State who will appoint a new Prime Minister and a government representing all parties. New elections need to take place as soon as the voters' lists can be updated.

The situation in northern Mali deteriorated very quickly following the coup d'état. The Touareg rebel MNLA captured the three strategic towns of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu in quick succession after Government troops withdrew. On 5th April the MNLA declared independence for the Tuareg's northern homeland – Azawad - which was immediately rejected by the African Union.

The EU has been concerned by the fragility of the Sahel for some years. It has been increasingly clear that development and security must go hand in hand. So we proposed the comprehensive approach of the Sahel Strategy which the Council adopted a year ago, and appointed a Senior Sahel Coordinator. This Strategy includes a financial top-up allocation of 50 M€ to contribute to supporting the Malian security policy.

The crisis in Libya and its fallout exacerbated an already existing problem, spilling well-armed fighters into a region where terrorism, hostage-taking, drug trafficking and criminality were already serious problems. Coming on top of the recurrent food insecurity, a major food crisis has greatly worsened the conditions of a large part of the population.

Throughout, our aim has been to work with the Governments of the region. Where the Government is strong, that works well. But the military Coup in Mali undermined the legitimacy and the effectiveness of the government, as well as threatening the sovereignty of the country.

I condemned the seizure of power by the military in Mali on 22nd March and called for the re-establishment of legitimate government and the holding of elections as soon as possible.

The Foreign Affairs Council of 23 March strongly supported the efforts of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to restore constitutional and democratic government in Mali. And our development cooperation with Mali was immediately put on hol. This did not affect humanitarian aid, nor any projects directly working and helping the people.

I have welcomed the agreement reached thanks to the mediation of Burkina Faso on behalf of ECOWAS and signed on 6 April by the military. I have urged all parties, including the military, to respect its terms and allow the swift restoration of full power to a legitimate government.

I have spoken with President Ouattara as Chairman of ECOWAS to reinforce this message and discussed the evolving situation with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon yesterday in Brussels.

The inauguration of Dioncounda Traore as interim President and the release of the detained Ministers are good news – although reports of the arrest of the former Prime Minister and another senior politician are of deep concern. The Foreign Affairs Council will discuss the situation in Mali again on Monday.

As soon as the interim Government is up and running, we will discuss how best the EU can support the transition, including the holding of elections. The Commission is now preparing to resume the suspended projects as soon as the political and administrative conditions will allow, notably the full respect of the agreement with ECOWAS to restore a legitimate government.

It will be for the interim Government to decide what support, including military, they may want from external partners, and from whom.

We are already in close touch with ECOWAS about their proposals to provide support for the security sector, notably for the North, but we need also to work closely with all neighbouring countries - Mauritania, Niger, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast - which all have a clear interest in the events taking place in Mali.

Such an option requires careful reflection on what could be the nature of such a mission and how to coordinate it with the necessary reinforcement of Mali's national army and gendarmerie.

On 21 March the Co-Presidents of the ACP - EU Parliamentary Assembly expressed grave concern at the deterioration of the situation in the North. It is not in the interests of the people of Mali, the region or the EU for this to become effectively a lawless zone.

The Council has made clear its commitment to the territorial integrity of Mali. A way must therefore be found to restore governance and democracy to the north.

This is made all the more urgent by the increasingly serious humanitarian situation Overall there are now over 200,000 persons displaced internally within Mali and more than 140.000 are estimated to have fled to neighbouring countries. For 2012 we have increased our humanitarian aid budget for the Sahel from 45 million euro to 105 million. Across Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Mali and Burkina Faso the Commission is implementing over 250 million euro in humanitarian aid and food security actions for an estimated population of 50 million people.

An additional 9 million was added earlier this month for food, shelter and water for Malian refugees and internally displaced people.

For now, our primary aim is to deliver quick relief to the most affected and vulnerable populations.

The EU remains committed to the preservation of the unity and sovereignty of Mali. It will remain in close contact with the new interim authorities in Bamako to define the concrete assistance in all the different fields: food, election process, security, and so on, that it can provide.

Stability in the Sahel region is essential to all the African partners of Europe.

This is why we intend to mobilise all our efforts to find solutions not only for the urgency of the next weeks but also for the medium and long term with the clear intention of assisting Mali in regaining its sovereignty in the Northern part of its territory and being again a true united nation.

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