Government split over aid to Mali

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Norway’s coalition government is by no means united on a proposal to send Norwegian troops to Mali, to help allies fend off an Islamist insurgency. While government ministers from the dominant Labour Party are considering joining the French-led military effort, their partners are skeptical at best.

Norway’s involvement would likely be limited to participation in an EU-initiated Nordic training force, aimed at helping Mali’s own government to retain control. Politicians for both the Socialist Left party (SV) and the Center Party (Sp), Labour’s two coalition partners, are worried.

Comparisons to Afghanistan
“The government in Mali lacks legitimacy, and Norway shouldn’t contribute to giving it more legitimacy,” Snorre Valen, foreign policy spokesman for SV, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Wednesday. He was referring to a military coup in Mali last year that stripped power from the country’s fledgling democratic rule that had been in place for around 10 years. Mali’s current transitional government, he claimed, is at the mercy of those behind the coup.

Valen warned that Norway and any other countries coming to Mali’s aid against radical Islamists that are seizing power around the former French colony can wind up in the same difficult situation as in Afghanistan. France has already sent thousands of troops and British Prime Minister David Cameron is demanding a “global response” to last week’s attack by Islamists from Mali on an Algerian gas plant co-operated by BP of the UK and Norway’s Statoil.

Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen and Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, both from Labour, have said they’re evaluating whether to join efforts to help Mali fight back against the Islamists. SV is alarmed.

Would need parliamentary support
“Even if we’re only talking about a small Norwegian contribution of training, we must have a thorough discussion of this,” Valen said. He said he’s not at all sure that military power is the best way to halt Islamic extremists. “Both Iraq and Afghanistan are examples that military power solved very little,” he claimed.

Center Party officials were also skeptical about Norwegian participation in new military operations overseas, and wants full support for any such plans anchored in the Parliament, not just within the government alone. Lars Peder Brekk, foreign policy spokesman for the Center Party, told newspaper Dagsavisen on Wednesday that party leaders were in the midst of internal discussions on the Mali issue following the hostage crisis in Algeria

Eide claims he’s worried about both the humanitarian situation in Mali and security issues tied to the Islamists’ insurgency. “There’s clearly a danger the unrest can spread in the region,” he said, stressing, though, that any Norwegian participation is still in the evaluation stage.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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