The Canadian government says reports it has already promised aid to Mali in its fight against Islamist rebels are premature, because Canada has yet to receive a formal request for assistance.
The office of Mali President Dioncounda Traore announced Sunday that Canada had joined Britain and the United States in providing logistical support for the French and African militaries fighting to block rebel advances in the West African country.
The announcement came in a single sentence via the President’s official, verified Twitter account. A second Canadian government source said no final decision has been made.
Late Sunday Rick Roth, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, denied the statement from Mali, which was picked up by international news organizations, saying in a brief e-mail that Ottawa’s “position hasn’t changed.”
Canada’s most recent stated position favoured diplomatic efforts and humanitarian aid to bring stability to the country, where Canadian companies are big players, particularly in mining. Canada is also in the early stages of providing military training to neighbouring Niger, which also faces the threat of Islamist insurgency.
Britain, in contrast, promised on the weekend to send two military cargo planes to Mali to help transport troops. The United States is providing transportation and communications support to aid France’s military intervention, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told French radio RFL on Sunday.
The government of Canada’s position on how to help stop the rebellion has not always been clear, so it’s not easy to tell if the President of Mali has read too much into recent statements, or may be jumping the gun on what is coming next.
Confusion first arose when Defence Minister Peter MacKay opened the door to military intervention in Mali, citing Canada's soldier training in Afghanistan. He was quickly contradicted by Mr. Baird, who said there would be no Canadian military intervention in Mali.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper left some room to manoeuvre in his most recent statement last week. He ruled out sending ground troops but left open some form of military assistance from Ottawa.
The ambiguity and news Canadian trainers are in Niger are evidence the Harper government is misleading Canadians, according to Jack Harris, the NDP defence critic.
“This week, the Prime Minister was talking about an African Union mission in the region with no military role for Canada. Now, we have a French intervention and bombing and Canadian special forces training in Niger,” Mr. Harris said. “The Conservatives haven’t been honest.”