Mali asks donors for two billion euros to rebuild country

BRUSSELS Fri May 10, 2013 12:05pm EDT

Agali Ag Illa (R), 20, and his brother Mohamed, 7, walk across the former altar of the Catholic church in Gao, Mali March 10, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney

Agali Ag Illa (R), 20, and his brother Mohamed, 7, walk across the former altar of the Catholic church in Gao, Mali March 10, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Joe Penney

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Mali will ask international donors for nearly two billion euros ($2.6 billion) to help rebuild the country and try to halt a resurgence of al Qaeda-linked Islamists who were driven out of the major northern towns by a French-led offensive.

Paris launched a ground and air operation in its former colony in January to break the Islamist rebel hold on the northern two-thirds of the country, saying the militants posed a threat to the security of West Africa and Europe.

The rapid offensive took back most of the territory seized by the militants but has failed to stop them from waging a guerrilla war.

On Friday, suspected Islamists carried out three suicide attacks on soldiers from Mali and Niger in northern Mali, wounding a Malian soldier. At least five bombers died.

In a document drawn up for an international donors' conference in Brussels on Wednesday, the Malian government said it would be able to finance just over half of a 4.34 billion euro plan for this year and next, but needed help with the rest.

"The international community is greatly needed to finance and implement the plan, up to a level of 1.96 billion euros," the government said in the document, posted in French on the conference web site.

"To get out of the crisis and to begin lasting development, Mali needs and depends on the technical and financial support of the international community," it said.

The plan sets out 12 priorities, including keeping the peace, organizing credible elections and fighting corruption.

Next week's conference, organized by France and the European Union, will aim to raise at least $600 to $700 million, diplomatic sources said.

Due to attend are Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, a number of other African leaders, French President Francois Hollande and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

France is now looking to withdraw thousands of its troops and hand over security duties to a U.N. peacekeeping mission.

Donors who suspended assistance to Mali following a military coup in March 2012 have resumed budget support and project aid.

The EU has unblocked 250 million euros in frozen development aid and Paris has restored 150 million euros, including a 10 million euro emergency assistance fund to rebuild key services such as water and electricity.

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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