The Government is considering deploying troops to train Mali’s army, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has said.

He said he expected Minister for Defence Alan Shatter to bring specific proposals to Government.

Mr Gilmore was speaking before a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, which is considering sending EU forces to train the Malian army.

France deployed almost 4,000 ground troops to Mali three weeks ago in a bid to stem advances made by Islamist militants.

The French government said it plans to begin pulling troops out of Mali from next month and gradually hand over to a UN-backed African force of 8,000 troops, known as AFISMA.

Around 3,800 of those troops have already been deployed.

France will focus its operations on flushing out Islamist rebels in the north of the country, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

"We will continue to act in the north where some terrorist havens remain," he said in an interview for Metro newspaper.

"I think that from March, if everything goes according to plan, the number of French troops should fall."

France has deployed ground troops, war planes and armoured vehicles in its three-week-old Operation Serval, which has broken the Islamist militants' ten-month grip on northern towns.

Paris and its allies want to prevent the Islamists from using Mali's desert north as a base to launch attacks on neighbouring African countries and the West.