EU to speed up help for Mali government: Ashton

STRASBOURG, France Tue Jan 15, 2013 11:38am EST

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STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - The European Union will speed up and adapt plans for a military training mission for the Malian army and take other new measures to help the country's government and people, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Tuesday.

Ashton is preparing for an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers, expected to take place in Brussels on Thursday, and she was speaking as France hit Islamist rebels with more air strikes.

The European Union has ruled out taking any combat role in Mali. It plans to send military trainers for the Malian army and expects the first trainers to arrive in late February or early March, although EU states are looking at a proposal to bring forward their arrival by about two weeks.

"We're going to adapt accordingly the details of our European mission" and send preparatory elements of the mission quicker than previously planned, Ashton said in a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

Ashton said security threats stemming from upheaval in Mali extended to Europe, as the rebels were using territory they had seized for arms smuggling and drug trafficking. EU governments planned to adopt new measures to help the country, she said, without giving details.

"Colleagues have put together a package of measures that will provide immediate and longer-term help to the Malian government and people," Ashton said.

(Reporting by Claire Davenport. Writing by Sebastian Moffett. Editing by Adrian Croft)

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