Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canada is not considering a direct military mission in Mali, despite concern about al-Qaeda’s growing influence in the country.

“The government of Canada is not considering a direct Canadian military mission,” Harper said Tuesday.

“Obviously, we are providing humanitarian aid to this region, which is important.”

He said Canada is “consulting with our allies in the west and with our friends in Africa” and that he is very concerned about the situation.

Harper was meeting with Thomas Boni Yayi, president of the Republic of Benin and chairman of the African Union, who said he wants to see NATO add its forces to the African forces tasked with dealing with Mali.

The two leaders announced they have signed a foreign investment protection agreement. The agreement locks in legally binding provisions, such as on non-discrimination and free movement of capital, according to a release from Harper’s office.

Harper also announced $18 million from 2013 to 2021 to help Benin improve its tax collection and policy implementation.

“We need internal revenue collection in order to have more independence,” Boni Yayi said.

The African Union head is expected to urge Canada to join the international military mission to Mali when he meets Harper, with the issue at the top of their agenda.

Mali was struck by a military coup last March and now has a group linked to al-Qaeda controlling its north.

The UN Security Council backed a proposal in December to send an African-led force of 3,300 soldiers into the country, but the resolution also called for broader international assistance.

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