By Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS)
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ABUJA, Nigeria, April 10, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- ECOWAS and the European Union on Tuesday, 9th April 2013 in Abuja, signed a grant agreement for 76 million Euros to support the African-led International Mission in Mali (AFISMA), and to strengthen the implementation of the regional protocol liberalizing the intra-community movement of citizens.

Fifty million of the grant will go mainly towards the payment of the salaries of the force while the remaining 26 million Euros will assist the region in addressing free movement and immigration issues.

The EU had pledged the grant during the donors' conference hosted by ECOWAS on the margins of the AU summit in Addis Ababa on 29th January 2013.

The agreement was signed by the President of the ECOWAS Commission, His Excellency Kadre Desire Ouedraogo and the Head of the EU delegation to Nigeria, Ambassador David MacRae on the sidelines of the ongoing three-day 9th ECOWAS/ Development Partners annual Coordination meeting which opened on Monday.

“The provision of the sum of 50 million euros has once again demonstrated the EU's unwavering resolve to assisting ECOWAS in the management of the crisis in Mali and the consolidation of peace and security in West Africa,” the ECOWAS boss said at the signing ceremony.

He also paid tribute to the EU, whose team “worked assiduously to establish the finance cell in the Commission,” that will support ECOWAS in ensuring the fund is managed in line with EU procedures, adding that AFISMA is on the threshold of its consolidation and stabilization phase.

“I have no doubt that ECOWAS will still count on the support of the EU and all other development partners for AFISMA and the Mali Security and Defence Forces in this most critical and logistics intensive phase, “ the president added.

He underscored the importance of the EU support for free movement and immigration in the region, saying this will “magnify the vital cooperation between ECOWAS and the EU in one aspect of the integration process.”

“For us to realize the dream of economic growth, regional development and integration, community citizens' rights of entry, residence and establishment must be fully guaranteed and migration and labour mobility must be effectively coordinated and managed,” President Ouedraogo said.

While he acknowledged the challenges to the seamless implementation of the regional flagship protocol, he described the signing of the agreement as timely and would assist the region address some of the “critical priority areas identified for the seamless implementation of the Protocol.”

These are in the areas of strengthening the capacities of the Commission to promote intra-regional dialogue on free movement and migration issues and those of Member States in the area of migration data management, policy development, border management, labour migration management and human trafficking.

Responding, Ambassador MacRae said the signing “concretizes the pledge made during the donors conference and a demonstration of the EU commitment to supporting the long-term objective of assisting Mali fully restore state authority, law and order, in addition to providing necessary support to the stabilization process in the country at the political and military levels as well as contributing to its early recovery.”

He said the EU has also pledged to support the road map for the transition to democratic and constitutional rule, national inclusive dialogue as well as free and fair elections, and urged the Malian authorities to accelerate the full return to constitutional rule and the political reconstruction of the country.

As evidence of its support for Mali's development, Ambassador MacRae said the EU has resumed development aid to the country for which 250 million euros is available from the European Development Fund, in addition to another 20 million euros in fast-disbursing assistance from the EU's Instrument for stability.

He praised ECOWAS for the swift deployment of regional troops in support of French and Chadian forces who are taking the battle against “terrorist and criminal groups to their retreat in the north of Mali with the long-term objective to fully restore state authority, law and order to that part of the country.”