European Union military instructors will start training their first battalion of Malian soldiers next week, in a bid to get the army ready to defend the crisis-torn country once French troops withdraw, the head of the mission said Wednesday.
The European Union Training Mission (EUTM) for Mali is tasked with helping the ill-trained army, just as French-led forces work to secure the north of the country from Al-Qaeda-linked rebels.
"The first soldiers will be welcomed on Tuesday, April 2," General Francois Lecointre told reporters in Brussels.
This first battalion will count 670 soldiers, out of more than 2,500 that are due to be trained up.
The EUTM mission comprises nearly 550 people -- including 200 trainers -- from 23 EU countries including France, Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic and Britain.
Expected to last around 15 months, the training will take place in Koulikoro, 60 kilometres (40 miles) northeast of the capital Bamako.