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France says Canada to help transport African troops to Mali

France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is seen before an extraordinary summit of West African regional bloc ECOWAS on the crisis in Mali and Guinea Bissau, at a hotel in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Jan. 19, 2013.

THIERRY GOUEGNON/Reuters

Canada has volunteered to transport African troops to Mali, France's Foreign Minister told a radio station Sunday.

Transportation for armed forces fighting Islamists in Mali's north can come "partly from Africans themselves, partly from Europeans, partly from Canadians, and the Russians have offered modes of transportation for the French, so it's pretty diverse," Laurent Fabius told Europe 1.

Last Monday, Canada loaned Mali a C-17 transport aircraft for a week. It's training soldiers in neighbouring Niger. But Ottawa has played down Canada's involvement in any Malian military operation.

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The aircraft is meant specifically for "a non-combat role to support operations," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement Jan. 14. "The RCAF aircraft will not operate in any combat zone. At no time will Canadian Armed Forces members be participating in direct action against insurgent forces in Mali."

The situation in North Africa has gotten uglier since France launched what was supposed to be a brief, decisive offensive on Mali's Islamists 10 days ago. Dozens of hostages from around the world are dead after being taken hostage at an Algerian gas field. And Mali's Islamist militants, familiar with the terrain and sometimes dispersed among civilians, have not been pushed back as easily as hoped. The Malian government itself, faces accusations of human rights abuses.

Now, France's message is that the Islamists' advance on the capital Bamako is averted, and "our African friends need to take the lead," as Mr. Fabius said Saturday. Under a United Nations Security Council resolution last month, that's exactly what was supposed to happen – a Mali mission led by west African states.

But while Mr. Fabius referred Sunday to more than 5,000 West African troops available, it's unlikely they'll be ready for combat any time soon. They need training, financing and transport – some of the logistics of which, Mr. Fabius indicated, are on offer from Canada.

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