Canada increases aid to Mali

French troops aboard armoured vehicles are greeted by the population as they arrive in Timbuktu in this January 28, 2013 picture



OTTAWA - Canada is boosting aid to Mali by $13 million, International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino announced Tuesday.

The increased funds will go towards improving food security, emergency health care and humanitarian aid for refugees who have fled the jihadist militants and conflict in northern Mali.

Fantino was in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa for an international meeting hosted by the African Union on the situation in the west African nation.

Canadian funds will be distributed through the UN World Food Programme, World Vision Canada, the Red Cross and CARE Canada, among other aid groups.

The UN refugee agency estimates some 380,000 people have fled northern Mali since last year, with about 150,000 crossing into neighbouring Niger, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso.

Canada has so far spent $76 million on aid to Mali since last year.

The Conservative government recently extended its offer of a C-17 transport aircraft for the mission until Feb. 15. It's being used to transport troops and equipment for the French-led mission to beat back jihadists who took over part of the country in the wake of a military coup in March 2012.

MPs will soon be debating in Parliament Canada's continued involvement in the mission.

On Monday, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the government has taken precautions to protect Canadian officials in Mali, but wouldn't confirm reports Canadian special forces soldiers are there to protect Canada's assets.

"Steps have been taken to ensure our mission and Canadian personnel are protected," Rick Roth said in an e-mail. "We cannot comment on security specifics."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly said Canada would not play a combat role in the conflict in Mali.

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