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Harper to meet with African Union leader as Canada mulls support for Mali

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s challenge: Reinforce the message that only his party can manage the economy.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The head of the African Union is set to visit Ottawa this week.

Thomas Boni Yayi's meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper could bring a request for Canadian troops to be involved in an international mission in Mali.

The United Nations Security Council backed a proposal in December to send an African-led force of 3,300 soldiers into the country.

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But the resolution also called for broader international assistance.

A military coup last year created a power vacuum in Mali that's led to the rise of armed groups linked to al-Qaeda in the country's northern region.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said last week that Canada could be willing to send troops to help train African forces.

As the president of the African Union, Mr. Boni Yayi was instrumental in convincing the United Nations that international intervention was needed.

And the African Union, along with a coalition of West African states, is now responsible for putting the resolution into action.

Mali, a landlocked country bordering on Algeria and Niger, has been one of the biggest recipients of Canada's foreign aid.

Canadian special forces were active in the west African country for several training missions prior to the coup and before Islamic Maghreb — known as AQIM — overran much of the northern portion of the impoverished nation.

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In addition to being the chairperson of the AU, Mr. Boni Yayi is also the president of Benin.

"Benin is a democratic African partner that continues to make impressive progress in the areas of economic and institutional reform while promoting regional stability," said Harper in a statement Sunday.

"I look forward to meeting with (President Boni Yayi) to explore ways of expanding commercial relations and contributing further to Benin's development."

Editor's note: The name of the president of Benin was reported incorrectly in an earlier version of this story. This version has been corrected.

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