The first group of 70 EU military instructors, deployed to train Mali's deeply divided and underfunded army to take on Islamist rebels, arrived Friday in the capital, a French officer said.
"We are here to enable the Malian army to hold all the nation's territory and so that Mali can have a good army at its disposal, prepared to engage," said Colonel Bruno Heluin, the commander of the first group of what will ultimately be 500 European trainers.
The arrival of the trainers in Bamako was overshadowed by a gunfight which erupted between feuding Malian soldiers, a sign of tensions left over after a March 2012 coup which has left the nation weakened as conflict rages in the north.
Several were reported injured when soldiers attacked a camp of elite Red Beret paratroopers loyal to ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure, who had protested being absorbed into other units for the battle in the north.
Bertrand Soret of the EU in Mali said the 70 trainers, from Spain, Britain, Romania, Sweden, Finland and France were "forerunners of the mission coming to train and improve the chain of command in the Malian army."
"Their mission is to set up the base which will house the 500 European Union instructors."
He said the mission's training was aimed at "restoring the armed forces' military capacity with the objective of allowing them to lead combat operations aimed at restoring the territorial integrity of the country."
French General Francois Lecointre, who is leading the mission, explained there was "a real need to recreate the Malian army, which is in a state of advanced disrepair."
"The soldiers are badly trained, badly paid and under-equipped", lacking arms, transport equipment and communications equipment, he said.
The 27 EU nations approved the training mission in December, and it was accelerated after the surprise intervention of France in its former colony on January 11, to stop an advance north by the Islamists.
The mandate of the mission is 15 months, renewable, and 16 countries from the EU as well as Norway will be taking part.
by Anna MALPAS Â© 2013 AFP
Date: Feb 8, 2013