Sahel leaders seek UN help against jihadist attacks

Five nations waging a battle against jihadi fighters in the Sahel asked the UN on Tuesday for money and other aid to help tackle a scourge which claimed more lives even as officials met.

Leaders of the so-called G5 Sahel – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger – gathered in the Burkinabe capital Ouagadougou seeking to beef up the battle against jihadists who have killed hundreds of civilians and inflicted crippling economic damage.

In the latest incident, five security personnel were killed on Tuesday in a what the army called a “terrorist” attack in northern Burkina Faso.

“A military detachment from forces ensuring security in the north at Oursi, in the Sahel were attacked by terrorists,” the army said in a statement.

“Five gendarmes were killed and three injured, including two seriously,” it said, shortly after another similar attack Monday left 14 civilians dead.

In a statement issued at the close of a one-day meeting, the G5 renewed their “concern” over the situation, and called for “closer cooperation between the G5 Sahel and the United Nations”.

This should include assistance to a joint G5 military force under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which can authorise measures to help a country “which finds itself confronted with special economic problems” arising from “prevention and enforcement measures” aimed at safeguarding peace, they said.

The five countries are among the world’s poorest.

The radical Islamist revolt in the Sahel took off after chaos engulfed Libya in 2011. Jihadist attacks erupted in northern Mali as Boko Haram arose in northern Nigeria.

As the toll spiked, a French-backed scheme was launched in 2014 with the goal of deploying a 5 000-man joint force among the five nations in the front line.

But lack of funding and training, as well as poor equipment, have greatly undermined the initiative, and last June, the force’s headquarters in Mali were hit by a devastating suicide attack claimed by an al-Qaeda-linked group.

Mahamadou Issoufou, president of Niger, told reporters at Tuesday’s meeting there was a need to find “a permanent mechanism to finance” an anti-jihadist force under the UN Charter’s Chapter 7.

The G5, he added, “reaffirmed its determination and its willingness to continue the fight against terrorism with all means necessary: militarily, economically — because poverty is the fertile ground in which terrorism thrives – and also ideologically”.

Help us

The G5’s problems have given rise to long periods of apparent inactivity, although on Sunday, its commander General Hanena Ould Sidi, a Mauritanian, said the force had carried out three operations since January 15.

He gave no further details.

In their joint statement, the heads of state said a military force can never be the only solution, and urged the international community “to support the G5 Sahel’s efforts” to secure and develop the region.

The president of summit host Burkina Faso, Roch Marc Christian Kabore, also asked for “redoubling efforts to accelerate the strengthening of the joint force”.

Nearly 300 people have been killed in Burkina Faso in four years of attacks committed by people whom Burundian ex-president Pierre Buyoya, the African Union’s representative at the summit, described as “terrorists with regressive aims”.

The capital Ouagadougou has been hit three times, most recently in March 2018.

Tight security was in place for Tuesday’s meeting.

A key highway linking the airport and the conference venue was closed off to non-summit traffic, and armed troops were deployed at regular intervals.

Last month, President Kabore carried out a major reshuffle of the country’s security apparatus, sacking the chief of the armed forces and replacing the ministers of defence and security.

At the end of February, Burkina Faso will host the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, one of the biggest African film festivals, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

It will also host the counter-terrorism military exercise “Flintlock”, which draws in hundreds of American, African, and European soldiers.

The G5 leaders also expressed concern Tuesday “at the resurgence of inter-communal conflict in some countries”.
In some of the nations, Fulani herders, accused by local communities of being accomplices of jihadist groups, are pitted against Dogon hunters in inter-tribe conflict that has claimed dozens of lives.