, BRUSSELS, May 15 – International donors opened a conference on Mali Wednesday aimed at raising some two billion euros ($2.6 billion), pledging to help all sides in the troubled country avoid the mistakes which led to war and political crisis.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the meeting that everyone “had to look at the causes of the crisis” and act accordingly.
Aid granted would be tied to an open and transparent Mali, with political reconciliation a key element in restoring stability to the country and to the wider Sahel region.
“Elections must take place on the date indicated” of July 28, Fabius said, stressing that this was a central condition.
Mali Foreign Minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly said the crisis “has taught us a lot” and showed that “we need to live and work together” in Mali.
The July polls are seen as essential to restoring democratic rule to Mali after a military coup in 2012 paved the way for Islamist rebels to seize control of the north.
France, Mali’s former colonial power, sent in troops in January to fight the Al-Qaeda-linked rebels who were then advancing on the capital Bamako, pushing them back.
Mali President Dioncounda Traore pledged Tuesday that the July elections would go ahead as planned.
Wednesday’s conference is being co-hosted by the European Union and French President Francois Hollande, with some 100 delegations in all.
European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso announced Tuesday after meeting Traore that the EU would contribute 520 million euros while diplomatic sources said France would offer some 280 million euros.
The funds targeted at the conference will cover about 45 percent of the costs of a reconstruction plan drawn up for this year and next by Bamako.
EU officials say the war has resulted in some 500,000 refugees, with three quarters of them displaced to the southern part of the country.
Some two million people have no secure food supply while 600,000 children are threatened by malnutrition, with conditions on the ground difficult for providing aid.
Besides humanitarian aid, the EU is training Mali’s ramshackle armed forces to bring them up to standard on both their military role and responsibilities to civil society.