05/15/2013 02:00 EDT | Updated 07/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Canada adds $75 million to growing pot of international donations for Mali

OTTAWA - Canada joined an international effort Wednesday to back a plan aimed at turning the West African country of Mali into a democracy instead of a hotbed of international terrorism.

Nations and other groups were convened in Brussels to discuss a $5.58-billion plan proposed by Malian officials to right its economy and strengthen social and security services in the wake of nearly a year of instability.

Canada has pledged $85 million, announcing $75 million on Wednesday for humanitarian and social needs, in addition to the $10 million pledged Tuesday for security and democracy-building plans.

Altogether, various nations and international organizations promised $4.22 billion to help reconstruct the conflict-ridden West African nation.

The amount far exceeded Mali's goal of raising about $2.6 billion at the event, underscoring the importance Western countries place on righting the country's course.

"This conference was a total success," Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, said as he expressed thanks to the international community.

A list of the pledges was not immediately released.

But French President Francois Hollande said his country would contribute about $363.3 million, while Germany and the United States both pledged more than $150 million, provided elections take place in the country.

Canada considers itself a long-standing friend of the Mali, said Lois Brown, parliamentary secretary for international co-operation, who attended the conference.

"Canada will continue to play a leadership role in helping Malians build a more peaceful and prosperous country," said a text of her remarks.

Mali had been one of Canada's so-called countries of focus for aid and development efforts until the crisis of 2012.

That year rebel groups took over the north and a military coup ousted the southern-based government.

As Islamist groups began to amass control, it sparked international fears that the region would become a base for terrorist groups planning attacks on other countries.

There are some known terrorist-training camps in Mali. A Canadian man currently in prison in Mauritania for terrorist-related activities was believed to be on his way to one prior to being arrested in 2011.

Following the coup, Canada immediately suspended all direct aid to the Malian government, though continued supporting humanitarian efforts.

Canada also gave the subsequent French-led international military force fighting the rebels assistance in the form of a transport aircraft and supporting personnel.

There had been calls for Canada to play a larger military role but they were ultimately rebuffed by the Conservative government.

The military effort has brought some stability and now the rebuilding process has begun.

"The war is being won," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Wednesday. "We must now win the peace."

As the conference opened, Mali's finance minister, Tiena Coulibaly, said the country's crisis had had grave consequences for Malians, as hotels stood empty and trade and the economy collapsed.

"This has led to poverty — extreme poverty — to unemployment and the occurrence of disease," Coulibaly said.

Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Program, also described a dire situation for Malians.

"We still have 300,000 people who are internally displaced from northern Mali living in southern Mali, and another 175,000 people who are in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania," Cousin told The Associated Press.

"The government is now estimating that over 660,000 children under the age of five are in danger of being chronically malnourished."

Beyond that, she said, more than 700,000 adults "are in need of immediate food assistance."

She said the country could not recover as a functioning state without international assistance.

The $75 million announced Wednesday by Canada will be channelled through UNICEF and the World Food Program for food security, nutrition, immunization, and access to basic health and educational services.

Whether Canada will resume direct aid to the Malian government remains to be seen, Brown suggested Wednesday.

"We encourage the interim government to hold legitimate elections as soon as is feasibly possible," she said.

"We maintain hope for this outcome, as it is integral for the long-term security and prosperity of the Malian people."

Presidential elections in the country are scheduled for late July.

- with files from The Associated Press