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Mali

Germany considers helping refuel French jets in Mali

The German defense minister has told a major daily paper that the Bundeswehr might offer aerial refuelling services to French planes over Mali. Thomas de Maiziere said he was in "close contact" with France.

Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in an interview published in Thursday's Süddeutsche Zeitung that the Bundeswehr was planning to offer aerial refueling services to French military planes operating in Mali.

"We are working on the necessary certification of the refueling systems and are in close contact with France," de Maiziere told the paper. "I think that we can be ready in February."

The Christian Democrat cabinet minister said he believed that approval from the Bundestag parliament would be necessary for such a move.

"If necessary, we can then tie this to the mandate for the planned EU training mission," de Maiziere said, also saying parliament would be informed of a desired timetable "without delay."

France, currently leading attempts to reclaim northern Mali from Islamist rebels alongside its former colony's military, had recently requested refueling assistance for its planes in the region.

Approval probable

A leading opposition defense politician suggested on Thursday that the move would encounter little resistance.

"I consider it correct and requiring of a mandate," Social Democrat defense policy spokesman Rainer Arnold said. He said he believed parliament was essentially prepared "to approve a mandate that is consistent with German interests and Germany's standing."

Germany already provides some airborne assistance to the Mali mission, with Transall C-160 military transport planes offering logistical support.

The French government on Wednesday asked for officials in Mali to consider talks with "legitimate representatives" of the northern rebel factions, saying that recent military gains should be backed up by a political process.

Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, responded that he would consider talks with the Tuareg rebels - an ethnic group seeking independence for a region they call Azawad - but not Islamist groups. The Tuaregs were initially considered the leading force in Mali's north as rebels took hold of several major cities early last year, but their influence is seen to have since waned as a collection of groups with alleged ties to al Qaeda took greater control of northern Mali.

French troops arrived in Kidal, the last major rebel-held settlement, early on Wednesday, although the military later said a sandstorm had prevented them from making much progress beyond the town's airport.

Video: EU stance on Mali ahead of summit

European Union foreign ministers convene in Brussels on Thursday morning to discuss the situation in Mali, with details of the planned EU training force thought to be a key topic for the talks.

msh/hc (AFP, Reuters)

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