Norway won’t send soldiers to Mali

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Norway’s coalition government has decided against joining an EU effort to help the military in Mali fight back against Islamist extremists. Coalition member SV (the Socialist Left party) was relieved, but the government isn’t ruling out participation in future military aid to Mali through the UN.

The three Norwegian political parties making up the government coalition had been considering a request from the EU and neighbouring Sweden to help train Mali’s army. Sixteen EU countries are sending as many as 500 soldiers to Mali this week to train the embattled country’s own military forces, reported German news bureau DPA.

Refusal despite attack on Statoil
Islamist extremists based in Mali were behind last month’s attack on a gas plant in Algeria that was partly run by Norwegian state oil company Statoil. Five Statoil employees were killed in the attacks, but the Norwegian government nonetheless decided on Monday to turn down the request to help fend off the extremists’ advances in Mali. Snorre Valen, foreign policy spokesman for SV, called the decision “wise.” His party has claimed all along that Mali’s government itself “lacks legitimacy” and that Norway shouldn’t get involved in its internal troubles.

“It’s wise for Norway not to contribute military capacity in a civil war with ethnic conflicts,” Valen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He also noted that Mali’s military has been accused of serious human rights violations, while SV has warned that Norway and other countries could land in “the same difficult situation as in Afghanistan.”

Norway’s three government parties did agree, however, to contribute NOK 30 million (around USD 5 million) to the UN’s fund for Mali, with NOK 20 million earmarked for the UN’s efforts to improve human rights in Mali and prepare for new elections. The other NOK 10 million is meant to support Mali’s civilian police force and pay for human rights observers. The funds come in addition to the NOK 80 million Norway already provides in foreign aid to Mali.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide also noted that Norway later may join UN-run military aid efforts that the UN seems likely to take over from the EU.

Still training in Afghanistan
Norwegian military forces will continue, meanwhile, to train police in Afghanistan and Afghanistan’s own special forces, the so-called Crisis Response Unit (CPU). Norway had responsibility for training Afghan forces in Kabul from 2007-2009 and from April of last year.

Newspaper VG reported this week that Norwegian military troops also have trained their own interpreters in the use of weapons. Several Afghan citizens who worked for Norwegian defense forces were trained to use various hand weapons, machine guns and grenades and some interpreters even were issued their own weapons.

Several of the interpreters have since sought asylum in Norway, fearing for their lives after the withdrawal of Norwegian soldiers from Afghanistan began. The Norwegian military said it would investigate the controversial weapons training program that several officers told VG was conducted over several years.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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