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Donors pledge about $4.22 billion to aid Mali recovery

A woman poses for a picture while cleaning the destroyed main market in Gao, March 2, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney
A woman poses for a picture while cleaning the destroyed main market in Gao, March 2, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney

By Ethan Bilby and Adrian Croft

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - International donors pledged 3.25 billion euros ($4.22 billion) on Wednesday to help Mali recover from a conflict with al Qaeda-linked Islamists, exceeding the West African country's target.

The development drive for Mali, one of the world's poorest countries, is aimed at halting a resurgence of the rebels driven out of major northern towns by a French-led offensive this year.

"More than 3.25 billion euros have been mobilized at this conference," French President Francois Hollande told the meeting, organized jointly by France and the European Union.

More than 100 delegations took part in the conference, including 10 presidents or prime ministers.

The EU's executive Commission will allocate 524 million euros to Mali. Large pledges by France, the United States, Britain, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, the Islamic Development Bank and others enabled the West African country to exceed its goal of raising two billion euros.

It needs the money to fill a funding gap in a 4.34 billion euro plan to keep the peace and build infrastructure over this year and next.

EU, French and Malian officials declared the conference a success. "It went beyond what we could have hoped for ... This conference marks a new chapter in the fight of civilization against terrorism," Malian President Dioncounda Traore told a news conference.

French and EU officials said that releasing the bulk of the money was dependent on Mali fulfilling its commitment to holding presidential elections on July 28.

"We cannot wait for the elections. One third of the EU commitment will be financed before, but two thirds depends on the elections," French Development Minister Pascal Canfin told Reuters.

He also said Mali must push through reforms in justice, fighting corruption, public finances and decentralizing power.

NO BLANK CHEQUE

Mali's implementation of reforms will be strictly monitored by the donors.

"Nothing is a blank check, everything is covered by this plan for 2013-2014 and the progress will be evaluated based on the objectives of this plan," Andris Piebalgs, the EU's development commissioner, told Reuters.

Aid group Oxfam welcomed the pledges, but said they should be seen as "a down payment, not a one-off check".

France launched a ground and air operation in its former colony in January to break the Islamist rebel hold on the northern two-thirds of the country, saying the militants posed a threat to the security of West Africa and Europe.

The rapid offensive took back most of the territory seized by the militants but has failed to stop them from waging a guerrilla war.

Hollande dismissed comparisons between Mali and Afghanistan.

"In Mali, the terrorists have been beaten. I don't say there are none left, I don't say there is no risk, but there is no longer any fighting," he said.

Mali continues to suffer a humanitarian crisis, with more than 174,000 refugees in neighboring countries and 300,000 internally displaced.

Some 750,000 Malians need food assistance and 660,000 children face malnutrition, according to Kristalina Georgieva, the EU's humanitarian aid commissioner.

"At the moment conditions are better in the camps than they are at home," Georgieva told Reuters.

"This is why this focus on the early recovery of basic services is so crucial. As long as people live better in the camps than they live at home, they're not going to go back."

(Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak; editing by Mike Collett-White)

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