S Arabia, UAE pledge $130m for Sahel anti-terror force

2017-12-13 21:30
French president Emmanuel Macron. (Markus Schreiber, AP)

French president Emmanuel Macron. (Markus Schreiber, AP)

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Paris - Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates put forward $130m on Wednesday towards fighting jihadists in West Africa's Sahel region, as France's Emmanuel Macron hosted leaders to an effort to boost a fledgling five-nation military force.

The force brings together troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger - some of the poorest countries in the world - and money had been a major obstacle to getting it off the ground.

The $100m from oil-rich Riyadh and $30m from the UAE bring the total pledged funding over the initial 250 million euros needed in the short term, a relief for Macron who had lobbied the Gulf and US for cash.

"We must win the war against terrorism in the Sahel-Sahara region," Macron told reporters after meeting with the five countries' presidents and other leaders including Germany's Angela Merkel.

Ambitious goals 

"The Sahel is politically and economically strategic, especially for France and Germany, both of which view the region as posing a potential threat to their own security and as a source of migration and terrorism," it added in a report on Tuesday.

The ambitious goal is to have a pooled force of 5 000 local troops operational by mid-2018, wresting back border areas from jihadists including a local Al-Qaeda affiliate.

Re-establishing law and order in the border zone between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, where several hundred soldiers carried out last month's debut mission, is a top priority.

Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita told reporters it was "urgent to ensure that G5 Sahel forces get rapid results".

"We are pursuing these efforts for peace in Mali," he added.

The task is daunting, not least because the Islamists enjoy a degree of support in areas where people's experience of the state has often been one of inefficacy or outright abuse of power.

In central Mali, Human Rights Watch noted that many villagers welcomed Islamists' efforts to punish livestock thieves, while others "expressed anger at Malian army abuses".

The rights group urged the new international force to respect civilians' rights in areas where ordinary people have often borne the brunt of the violence.

Across the region, thousands have died in years of attacks, and tens of thousands have fled their homes. Troops have also been a frequent target, including an assault in Niger in October which left four US soldiers dead.

 Dangerous region 

Read more on:    saudi arabia  |  mauritania  |  burkina faso  |  united arab emirates  |  france  |  niger  |  mali  |  chad  |  west africa

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