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Donors' conference pledges €3.25 billion for Mali

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International donors pledged €3.25 billion to help rebuild conflict-hit Mali at an international conference in Brussels on Wednesday. The pledges vastly exceeded expectations, with Mali originally hoping to secure some €2 billion in funding.  International donors pledged €3.25 billion in funds to help with Mali's reconstruction after Islamist rebels took control of much of the troubled country last year, French President François Hollande announced on Wednesday.

The donors' meeting, co-hosted by the EU and France, Mali's former colonial ruler, had an initial target of €2 billion ($2.6 billion) to cover about half the cost of a 2013-2014 economic and political reconstruction programme agreed with the international community.

"We are showing that we can unify around a cause which concerns us all, Europe and Africa," Hollande told the conference.

"The terrorist groups in the north believed that they owned the place," the French president said, adding that France decided to intervene because the Islamists "had decided to conquer all of Mali and were looking even further afield".

France launched a military intervention in January of this year to oust the Islamic militants who had taken control of most of northern Mali over the preceeding year.

Even before France’s military action, international officials were concerned that the largely ungoverned north of Mali could act as a haven for terrorist groups plotting attacks not just in Africa but anywhere in the world.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said earlier that the money pledged by the EU and any funds raised by Wednesday’s conference would help “establish a Mali that is stable, democratic and prosperous”.

Mali’s government has drawn up a comprehensive €4.3 billion ($5.58 billion) rebuilding plan that includes re-establishing government institutions and the military, holding dialogues with rebels in the north, rebuilding roads and schools, and reviving the economy.

Elections planned for July

Interim president Dioncounda Traore announced on Tuesday that Mali intends to hold its first presidential elections following the conflict on July 28 this year but that neither he nor any member of the transitional government would be a candidate for the presidency.

However, with the country still feeling the effects of the disruption caused by the recent conflict as well as facing significant security concerns, some have questioned if the date scheduled for the elections may be too early.

Although France has succeeded in pushing back the Islamists from the main urban centres of northern Mali into the mountains and desert, it has failed to stop rebels from waging a guerrilla war which has seen jihadists launch a series of suicide bombings across the north of the country.

Over a year of conflict has also resulted in the exodus of tens of thousands of refugees to the surrounding countries of Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger.

Last month, France began withdrawing its 4,500 troops deployed in Mali with plans to hand over security duties to a UN peacekeeping mission.