Prague - The Czech government has approved the participation of Czech soldiers in an EU mission to Mali.
In January, France launched a military intervention in Mali to assist the African country's armed forces in their effort to fight al-Qaeda-affiliated insurgents who are currently in control of northern Mali.
Czech soldiers will not join the fighting, they will only assist with the training of the Malian army, said Deputy Prime Minister Karlina Peake (LIDEM).
In October 2012, the European Union's Foreign Affairs Council decided to set up a mission to train Mali's armed forces (EUTM Mali). The operation is expected to last 15 months.
The mission must be approved by the Parliament, but the opposition Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) has said that if certain conditions are met, it will vote for the proposal.
"The Czech Republic is ready to actively participate in the stabilization of the situation in Mali by sending a contingent of as much as 50 soldiers. Their task will be to provide necessary training to the Malian armed forces for 15 months," said Prime Minister Petr Necas, who is currently also in charge of the Defense Ministry.
"The cost of sending Czech soldiers to Mali will be paid from the Defense Ministry's budget," said Defense Ministry spokesman Jan Pejsek. The cost of the 15 months mission is estimated at CZK 220 million (8.6 million euro). The spokesman said that the Czech Republic is prepared to send 30 soldiers in the first phase, and can add another 20 personnel if necessary.
"Our soldiers have extensive experience with helping to train other countries' armed forces. In the past, they have repeatedly proved this in the Balkans or Iraq, at present they are significantly participating in the training of the Afghan armed forces," said First Deputy Defense Minister Vlastimil Picek.
The French armed forces are advancing against northern Mali's insurgents faster than previously expected.