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EU rules out sending combat mission to Mali

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union ruled out taking any combat role in Mali on Monday and NATO said it had not received any French request for help, after France intervened against al Qaeda-linked Islamists in the north of the African state.

The EU plans to speed up preparations to send military trainers for the Malian army and expects to start that mission in late February or early March.

EU foreign policy spokesman Michael Mann told a daily briefing, when asked whether he could rule out a combat mission by the European Union: "Yes, I can."

Asked whether the EU supported the French action, he said: "We support the actions undertaken by our member states."

NATO welcomed France's military intervention but said the alliance had not received any French request for help.

"There has been no request, no discussion (within NATO) on the situation in Mali, the alliance as such is not involved in this crisis," NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told reporters.

"But of course we are all concerned by the threats that terrorist organizations in Mali can pose, not just to the country itself, but also to the region, and that is why we welcome the efforts of the whole international community to implement the United Nations Security Council resolution (on Mali) and the very swift action by France to roll back the offensive of terrorist organizations," she said.

Lungescu said that, as far as she knew, France had made no request to put Mali on NATO's agenda.

French Air Force General Jean-Paul Palomeros, a top NATO commander, said the Mali intervention was a national French operation that did not involve NATO. But he told a news conference he was "very proud that France is taking its full part in fighting against terrorism in this part of the world".

(Reporting by Adrian Croft, Justyna Pawlak, Sebastian Moffett and Barbara Lewis; Editing by Louise Ireland and Rex Merrifield)

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