U.N. chief arrives in Mali for anti-poverty mission

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U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon touched down in Mali late Monday, the foreign ministry said, to begin a tour of the region highlighting the battle against poverty but overshadowed by the murder of two French journalists.

Ban, World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim and top officials from the African Union, African Development Bank and European Union will spend Tuesday in Mali before travelling to Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad.

“He is currently here -- he is being welcomed by the prime minister,” a ministry spokesman told AFP from Bamako's airport as Malian premier Oumar Tatam Ly greeted Ban.

The Bamako leg of the trip comes with French and Malian troops hunting the killers of Ghislaine Dupont, 57, and Claude Verlon, 55, who were kidnapped and shot dead by suspected terrorists in the flashpoint northeastern town of Kidal on Saturday.

The deaths have highlighted the ongoing security threat just three weeks ahead of parliamentary elections supposed to mark the completion of Mali's transition back to democracy following a military coup in March last year.

Ban said ahead of his visit that the Mali crisis, when Islamic radicals and rebel allies took over the north for nearly a year, “underscored the need to do more than fight fires in the region -- we need to clear away the problems that could ignite conflict and instability”.

Eleven million of the 80 million people living in Sahel countries lack sufficient food, the region has had three severe droughts in a decade and Ban says it is “awash with weapons”.

The European Union and the World Bank on Monday pledged more than $8 billion in fresh aid for Sahel region countries, torn by conflict and among the poorest in all Africa.

The EU will put up $6.75 billion (five billion euros) and the World Bank $1.5 billion to help the long-suffering region, they announced.

“The people of the Sahel region desperately need more secure living standards, and our hope is this funding helps build a new path for economic growth in the region,” World Bank chief Kim said in a statement.

Ban, Kim, African Union chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka and Andris Piebalgs, the European commissioner for development, are due to head to Niger on Tuesday, and Burkina Faso and Chad on Wednesday, according to the World Bank.

They will meet the presidents of each country.

Mali, where French troops launched an offensive earlier this year to push back the Islamist rebels, is the “most fragile country” in the region, Piebalgs said, adding that it would receive 615 million euros in aid.

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