French soldiers stand on a tank in Niono.

Cotonou -

Benin has boosted its troop allotment for Mali to 650 soldiers from 300 planned earlier as part of an African force aimed at helping the country retake its Islamist-controlled north, a military officer said on Sunday.

“President Thomas Boni Yayi has decided that we add 350 soldiers to the 300 earlier planned to make a battalion of men”, Rear Admiral Denis Houssou Gbessemehlan, chief of defence staff, told AFP by telephone.

About 50 Benin soldiers left for Mali between on Friday and Saturday. “Others will also leave shortly,” he said without giving details.

About 2 000 members of the International Mission for Mali are expected to be deployed between now and January 26.

Eight west African nations - Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Senegal, Niger, Guinea, Ghana and Burkina Faso - as well as Chad have announced their contribution to the mission to be made up of 5 800 soldiers that would take over from France.

France, which launched the operation to drive back the Islamists, said it already has 1 400 soldiers in Mali and that its contingent would gradually be increased to 2 500 troops.

The UN Security Council has approved a 3 300-strong force for Mali. - Sapa-AFP