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Russia sends aid to Mali, worried by militant Islam

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 22 Feb 2013 13:08 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Plane carrying food, blankets and tents

* Foreign minister discusses situation with UN envoy

* French president due to visit Russia on Feb. 28

MOSCOW, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Russia expressed concern about the spread of militant Islam and growing tension in Mali on Friday as it sent humanitarian aid to the West African country.

The dispatch of the aid signalled Moscow's growing unease about the situation in Africa since the Arab Spring popular revolts, which Russian officials have long warned may strengthen the hand of radical Islamists and fuel violence.

The Emergencies Ministry said a transport plane had left for Mali with 36 tonnes of food and household items, blankets and tents.

The Foreign Ministry warned about growing tensions in the region following talks on Thursday between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Romano Prodi, the United Nations envoy to the Sahel region of Africa.

"The sides paid particular attention to the situation in the Republic of Mali. They expressed particular concern about the activity of terrorist organisations in the north of the country which represents a threat to regional peace and security," the ministry said in a statement on its website.

"The sides agreed the uncontrolled proliferation of arms in the region after the conflict in Libya creates grounds for an escalation of tension throughout the Sahel," the ministry said in a statement on its website.

The statement underlined the need to resolve the situation through the United Nations Security Council.

The ministry released the statement before a trip to Russia next Thursday by French President Francois Hollande, whose country has sent troops to its former colony Mali.

An Islamist alliance of al Qaeda's North African wing AQIM and home-grown Malian groups captured northern Mali last year, armed with weapons seized from Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

The aim of the foreign intervention is to prevent northern Mali from becoming a launchpad for international attacks by al Qaeda and its allies.

Russia backed a U.N. Security Council resolution authorising military intervention in Mali but Lavrov told a news conference last month that the rebels fighting French and African troops were the same fighters the West had armed against Gaddafi. (Reporting by Timothy Heritage; editing by Andrew Roche)

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