French to chair Sahel talks aimed at curbing Islamist insurgency

Meeting seeks to promote development in the African region to head off fighting

CORRECTION / A Burkina Faso soldier patrols at a camp sheltering Internally Displaced People (IDP) from Mali in Dori, on February 3, 2020.  600 000 Internally Displaced People (IDP) have fled recent attacks in northern Burkina. / AFP / OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT

France’s foreign minister will chair a meeting in Mauritania on Tuesday aimed at galvanising international support for the mission to defeat the world’s fastest growing Islamist insurgency in the Sahel region of Africa.

Jean-Yves Le Drian will chair the first meeting of the general Assembly of the Sahel Alliance, the group set up in 2017 to support efforts of five Sahel nations trying to combat groups seeking to establish an Islamic state in the region.

France first sent troops to Mali in 2013 and now has more than 5,000 troops across the huge area of central Africa as fighting has intensified and left more than 4,000 people dead last year, according to UN figures. Hundreds of thousands more people have been forced to flee their homes because of the fighting.

France fears that the conflict could drive migrants fleeing the conflict northwards, increasing financial and political pressures on Europe and risking further instability from the armed conflict close to its southern borders.

France has requested help from European allies to support its mission but has been largely rebuffed.

The Spanish foreign minster Arancha Gonzalez and Jutta Urpilainen, an EU commissioner, will also attend to hand over seven armoured personnel carriers, the French foreign ministry said.

The meeting will “underscore the concrete support of France and the EU” for the forces of the G5 Sahel Joint Force, comprising Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

The meeting comes after an ambush on a police patrol in Burkina Faso on Monday left four people dead. The dead included three police officers and another five people were injured.

Under-equipped and poorly trained, the country's security forces have not been able to counter the deadly raids in their territory, despite the help of French troops.

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