Mali links development to Sahel security
Malabo - Mali's foreign finister on Tuesday stressed the link between security and development in the restive Sahel desert where his country's troops are battling al-Qaeda linked militants.
Speaking ahead of an African Union summit which opens near here on Wednesday, Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga also renewed a call for foreign aid.
"We make a link between security and development. The area is home to underground economies which have moved into illegal activities such as drug and arms trafficking, he said.
"We are witnessing a criminalisation of the economy which we must combat but with alternative solutions, including greater state involvement," he added.
Noting that local populations must have access to state services, and social services so as not to resort to illegal activities to ensure their survival or security, he stressed the importance of partnerships with the European Union in this "long-term task".
"We need economic stability in these areas. The objective is to restore civil peace," he added.
Maiga said a joint operation by Malian and Mauritanian troops in northwestern Mali targeted al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and all groups involved in various forms of trafficking.
On Monday Mauritanian and Malian soldiers swept a forest area in north-west Mali after a raid by the Mauritanian army on an al-Qaeda base left 17 dead, including two soldiers, sources said.
The search operation in and around the Wagadou forest was a joint effort by the armies of neighbours Mali and Mauritania to flush out any remaining members, Mauritanian sources said.
It came after a raid on Friday "completely destroyed" the camp, according to the Mauritanian army, which reported the base had housed heavy weapons and posed "a real threat to our country".
Witnesses interviewed by AFP from Bamako said several members of AQIM were leaving Wagadou forest and heading north toward the Sahara.
Al-Qaeda's north African offshoot has bases in northern Mali from where it carries out armed attacks and kidnappings in the Sahel desert region where the group is also involved in arms and drugs trafficking.
AQIM is holding four French citizens abducted in northern Niger in September 2010 as well as an Italian kidnapped in southern Algeria in February.
Mali and Mauritania are among the countries hardest-hit by AQIM activities, along with Niger and Algeria, where the organisation has its roots. The nations work closely together in efforts to crack down on the organisation.
Mali has called for a regional push to train up to 75 000 troops within the next 18 months to combat extremists in the Sahel desert region.