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Russia sends aid to Mali; expresses concern on spread of militant Islam

MOSCOW -- Russia expressed concern about the spread of militant Islam and growing tension in Mali on Friday as it sent humanitarian aid to the West African country.

The dispatch of the aid signaled Moscow's growing unease about the situation in Africa since the Arab Spring popular revolts, which Russian officials have long warned may strengthen the hand of radical Islamists and fuel violence.

The Emergencies Ministry said a transport plane had left for Mali with 36 tons of food and household items, blankets and tents. The Foreign Ministry warned about growing tensions in the region following talks on Thursday between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Romano Prodi, the United Nations envoy to the Sahel region of Africa.

“The sides paid particular attention to the situation in the Republic of Mali. They expressed particular concern about the activity of terrorist organizations in the north of the country which represents a threat to regional peace and security,” the ministry said in a statement on its website.

“The sides agreed the uncontrolled proliferation of arms in the region after the conflict in Libya creates grounds for an escalation of tension throughout the Sahel,” the ministry said in a statement on its website.

The statement underlined the need to resolve the situation through the United Nations Security Council.

The ministry released the statement before a trip to Russia next Thursday by French President Francois Hollande, whose country has sent troops to its former colony Mali.

An Islamist alliance of al-Qaida's North African wing AQIM and home-grown Malian groups captured northern Mali last year, armed with weapons seized from Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

The aim of the foreign intervention is to prevent northern Mali from becoming a launchpad for international attacks by al-Qaida and its allies.

Russia backed a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing military intervention in Mali but Lavrov told a news conference last month that the rebels fighting French and African troops were the same fighters the West had armed against Gadhafi.

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A Malian soldier sits in a street on Friday, Feb. 22 in front of the offices of the Regional Assembly in central Gao, northern Mali. Five people, including two suicide bombers, died on Friday in car bombings in northern Mali, a day after fierce urban battles between French-led forces and Islamists left up to 20 extremists dead, officials said. (AFP)

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