Canada to send $13M in new humanitarian aid to Mali
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, January 29, 2013 11:31AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 29, 2013 10:49PM EST
OTTAWA -- Canada showed little appetite Tuesday for boosting its modest military assistance to Mali, choosing instead to provide $13 million in new humanitarian aid to help with food and health care for war victims.
International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino announced the additional contribution after attending a global donor meeting in Ethiopia.
Canada's donation appeared to be separate from the more than $450 million contributed by donors at the Ethiopian conference for the military campaign against Islamist extremists in Mali.
Fantino said Canada's new pledge will help improve food security, reduce malnutrition, address emergency health care and provide other humanitarian assistance, particularly for children.
"Building on Canada's significant investments over the past year, Canada will continue its life-saving work in Mali through humanitarian and development assistance," the minister said.
"Canadian investments have contributed to improving the quality of life of the most vulnerable Malians affected by the crisis, but we remain deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation and its effects on the stability of the Sahel region."
The aid will be distributed through non-governmental and United Nations agencies.
Canada has a C-17 heavy-lift transport plane committed to help move military equipment in support of French troops until Feb. 15. The air transport completed its 12th flight Tuesday, delivering six armoured vehicles to the capital, Bamako, before returning to the south of France.
But government sources say they don't expect any additional military assets to be sent.
Sources also say Canada's special forces are on the ground in Mali to help protect Canadian personnel already operating in the troubled West African country.
The Harper government remained unmoved by pressure from the African Union to take more decisive military action.
Canada sent an official from its mission in Brussels to Tuesday's special meeting of European Union countries, which was looking for pledges of personnel and other support for a military training mission to Mali. Norway was the only other non-EU country to attend.
"Canada was not pledging anything there though," said a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the meeting publicly. "We were merely listening."
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar called Tuesday's funding announcement a "good start" but he urged the government to consider other ways to contribute to the crisis.
Dewar said the EU will be convening another Mali meeting in early February and he called on the government to send "a high level political representative and to ensure that we're going to be involved."
Canada responded to Mali's March 2012 military coup by suspending its humanitarian programs. It had given Mali $110 million in aid the previous fiscal year. Since February 2012, Canada continued to help Mali through international aid agencies to the tune of $76 million.
Dewar said the House of Commons foreign affairs committee would be taking a closer look at Canada's commitment later in the week.
"We want to hear reports from obviously government but also sources from the ground as to what's happening there in real time to assess if it is in fact enough," he said.
EU officials said they are looking for a troop commitment of 500, half of them military trainers.
Britain announced 200 troops to help train a West African force.
Their job, to start by April 1, would be to raise the standards of Malian forces so they could protect their country from any return once al-Qaida linked militants are forced from the country's north.
The trainers would be based near Bamako and would not see combat.
The Canadian Forces have in the past offered such training to Malian forces, but it appears there is no political desire to repeat that mission.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House of Commons on Monday that the government would consult opposition parties before authorizing any further military action.
Mali was once a relatively stable African democracy until it a military coup in March 2012.
The coup allowed several hard-line Islamist groups affiliated with al-Qaida to seize the northern half of the country, an area of land roughly the size of France.