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EU to speed up preparations for Mali army training mission

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union will speed up preparations to send a team to Mali to train the country's army after Islamist rebels seized the strategic northern town of Konna, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Friday.

Condemning the rebel attacks, Ashton said the situation underlined the need for "enhanced and accelerated international engagement" to help restore state authority throughout Mali.

"The European Union ... will accelerate preparations for the deployment of a military mission to Mali to provide training and advice to the Malian forces," she said in a statement.

The EU approved plans in December to send about 200 trainers to Mali to improve the effectiveness of the Mali army. The first trainers had been due to arrive in late February or early March.

The European Union would look at targeted sanctions against all groups affiliated to militant organizations "if need be", Ashton said.

(Reporting by Adrian Croft and Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Sebastian Moffett)