Belgium weighing French military mission in Mali: minister

New York (AFP) –


Belgium has not ruled out participating in a French military initiative in Mali aiming to bring together special forces from several countries, Belgian Foreign Minister Philippe Goffin told AFP Thursday.

"It's a matter of debate, dialogue. There already are many troops in Mali, Niger," Goffin said when asked in an interview whether Belgium would respond favorably to a French request that its European allies provide forces for the endeavor, known as Takuba.

He noted that Belgium has a caretaker government, and committing troops to such an operation would require a government with a full mandate, plus the approval of parliament.

"At the very least that would be the subject of parliamentary debate and afterward the decisions would be taken," he said.

"I would insist that it pass through the filter of parliament. That's essential," he added.

Of the countries approached by France, Germany declined while Estonia promised to provide several dozen soldiers.

Both countries are non-permanent UN Security Council members, while Belgium is the body's president.

The United States, meanwhile, is seeking to scale down the UN mission in Mali in June.

Goffin acknowledged that the UN mission in Mali (Minusma) -- one of the UN's deadliest and costliest -- has lost public support.

"It's true that the Malian population is now nearly in a phase of rejection of Minusma, believing it does nothing and that its activities are totally useless," he said.

"When one sees the situation worsening in terms of the terrorist positions that are developing down there, I would evidently argue for maintaining our presence.

"As for a redefinition of Minusma's role, I think it's never a bad thing to reassess what works, what doesn't work."

Belgium has 85 peacekeepers in Minusma, in Bamako and Gao, according to Belgian officials. Some are attached to the Minusma's headquarters, while others are involved in intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance.

About ten are part of a European mission to train the Malian army. Belgian military personnel also are in Niger.