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Conflict

International efforts to aid Mali intervention increase

Nigeria has announced it will send troops to Mali, and Belgium promised to assist France's efforts with equipment. The US has ruled out a ground presence in the West African country's internal conflict.

A Nigerian defense spokesman said Tuesday the country would send about 900 troops total. On the same day, the Belgian defense minister decided to deploy two C-130 Hercules transport airplanes and two rescue helicopters to support France's military intervention. However, the United States has no plans to send troops to help battle groups there, some of which are linked to al Qaeda, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

"There is no consideration of putting any American boots on the ground at this time," Panetta told a news conference after meeting his Portuguese counterpart on the first leg of a trip to Europe.

France to increase troop numbers in Mali

"We have commended the French for this effort to try to go into Mali to stop the AQIM, these terrorists and members of al Qaeda, from being able to develop a base of operations in Mali," Panetta added, referring to the al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb rebel group.

Panetta did say that the United States is considering providing France with logistical, reconnaissance and airlift support.

France launched an aerial campaign on Thursday at the request of Mali's government against al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels advancing toward the capital, Bamako. The militants had gradually taken over the country's north in 2012 after a military coup plunged the region into chaos.

Praise and warnings

France was still seeking the full implementation of UN resolution 2085, which outlines the legal boundaries of international military assistance that would lead to the restoration of Mali's government.

The intervention pre-empted a UN-approved plan for an operation that was expected to start about nine months from now, but French President Hollande decided a military response could not wait that long.

On Tuesday, UNESCO urged Malian and French forces to protect ancient cultural sites during air raids and ground attacks. The rebels have fled three key cities in the north, including Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage site at a desert crossroads that was an ancient center of learning. Last year, the extremists smashed up the mausoleums of ancient saints and the entrance to the 15th-century Sidi Yahya mosque in Timbuktu, calling the sites blasphemous.

"I ask all armed forces to make every effort to protect the cultural heritage of the country, which has already been severely damaged," UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said in a statement. "Mali's cultural heritage is a jewel whose protection is important for the whole of humanity," Bokova added.

mkg/dr (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)

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