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Malian army "managing misery", not received funds: French colonel

Malian soldiers gather on the banks of the Niger River before taking a canoe to the village of Kadji in Gao March 1, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penne
Malian soldiers gather on the banks of the Niger River before taking a canoe to the village of Kadji in Gao March 1, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penne

PARIS (Reuters) - The Malian army remains poor, corrupt and barely functional months after the launch of a European training mission to rebuild its strength, a French colonel said on Monday, urging a rapid payout of pledged donor funds.

The European Union approved in January a 15-month training mission to rebuild a badly paid and poorly equipped Malian army, with the aim of making it strong enough to fend off potential attacks by Islamist militants.

But nearly three months later, corruption remains the rule in its ranks, soldiers are unable to train and some 8 million euros ($10 million) pledged by international donors at a conference in Addis Ababa have not reached the army.

"They're managing misery." Bruno Heluin, who runs training for Malian troops in the EU mission, told Le Monde daily.

"The international community says, 'We absolutely need to rebuild the Malian army'. But not a euro cent has been given to the Malian army ... even though 8 million euros were promised on January 29 at the Addis Ababa donor conference," he added.

France has begun to withdraw its 4,000-strong force from Mali after it intervened to help Malian forces drive back an offensive by Islamist militants who had seized two-thirds of the country in the desert north.

The U.N. Security Council is considering a draft resolution to approve the creation of a 12,600-strong U.N. peacekeeping force named MINUSMA, which would take over from a U.N.-backed African force currently in place.

However, peacekeepers would not remain indefinitely and donors have insisted that Mali's army be brought up to strength in order to defend against future attacks.

Instead Heluin said the army was getting on "day by day" as equipment donated by major powers proved unreliable, corrupt officers robbed their own army of transport vehicles and training remained impossible.

The army was nearly entirely dependent on outdated equipment donated by major powers including France, China, Russia and the United States - donations that had exacerbated its troubles rather than fix them, Heluin said.

"Since 2006, the Malians have ordered 800 pickup trucks. Today, almost none remain," he said. Some of the trucks had been stolen outright, while others were picked over for parts.

($1 = 0.7674 euros)

(Reporting By Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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