France says UN likely to support Sahel anti-jihadist force

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Dakar  - France's foreign minister said on Thursday he was confident "we will get there" in convincing a reluctant United States to give United Nations backing to an anti-jihadist force drawn from five African countries.

Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, which make up the so-called G5 Sahel, have agreed to set up a special counter-terrorism operation of 5 000 troops, but want UN logistical and financial support.

"We think that it is necessary to support them in this endeavour, because the security of Africans will not come, in the end, only from Africans themselves," said Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking in the Senegalese capital of Dakar as part of a west African tour.

France has presented a draft resolution to the Security Council that would give a UN mandate to the G5 troops to combat terrorism, drug trafficking and people trafficking.

"We are trying to move this forward, and I think that we will get there," Le Drian added, evoking the support of Senegal, a non-permanent member of the Security Council.

He noted an uptick in terror attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger that had led the nations involved to propose the creation of the force.

The United States had said the mandate lacks precision and that a council statement, instead of a full-fledged resolution, would provide sufficient support.

The European Union has already agreed to give 50 million euros to the regional force, but the United States and Britain are unwilling to commit UN funds for the operation, diplomats say.

The next summit of G5 Sahel nations will be attended by French President Emmanuel Macron on July 2 in Bamako, Mali, as France reaffirms its commitment to stamping out jihadists in the region.

France carried out a military intervention in Mali in 2013 to drive out jihadist groups, some of them linked to Al-Qaeda, which had seized key cities in the country's north.

France maintains its own 4 000-strong military presence in the Sahel region, known as Barkhane, which works alongside a separate Mali-focused UN peacekeeping mission.

Although the Islamists have been largely ousted from the north, jihadist groups continue to mount attacks on domestic and foreign forces, in violence that has engulfed parts of central Mali.

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