Sahel countries need more support to fight armed groups: UN chief

Antonio Guterres calls for a clear mandate and better funding for the G5 Sahel force in its counterterrorism efforts.

    The event in Nairobi is one of the five UN-organised regional counterterrorism meetings [Presidential Press Service via Reuters]
    The event in Nairobi is one of the five UN-organised regional counterterrorism meetings [Presidential Press Service via Reuters]

    The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has urged the international community to support West Africa's fight against armed groups, saying the region was on the "front line" and could not be expected to contain the spread of violence alone. 

    The spread of violence shows no signs of weakening in the Sahel region, where armed groups have gained ground and displaced millions of people across a large swathe of the troubled area.

    Guterres said on Wednesday the problem was spreading beyond the region and the G5 Sahel force - a joint military effort by Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mauritania - needed greater outside backing.

    "Unfortunately we are seeing that terrorism is progressing," Guterres told reporters at the opening of a two-day conference in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on counterterrorism in Africa.

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    "It started in Mali, it went to Burkina Faso, Niger and now, when we speak with the presidents of Ghana, Benin, Togo and Ivory Coast, they say that terrorism is coming to their borders." 

    The UN chief said it was essential that African forces had "strong and clear" mandates from the UN Security Council "backed by sufficient, predictable and sustainable financial support". 

    "I think now it would be important that we are open to support any African initiative involving all the countries of the region," he said.

    The presidents of West Africa "believe that we need a much more robust and collective response, that the international community needs to find the mechanisms to fully support it".

    'Incomprehensible situation'

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    The G5 Sahel leaders have repeatedly called for a mandate under Chapter VII of the UN Charter - measures that could authorise the use of sanctions and military intervention in situations where peace and security are threatened.

    Their requests have been denied, something Guterres said he regretted. He added funding for the G5 Sahel force has been slow to arrive.

    The African Union Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, expressed "difficultly understanding the international community's procrastination" in financing security operations on the continent.

    "It is an incomprehensible situation, the phenomenon is deepening," Mahamat said.

    As in Syria and Iraq, "the entire international community must be mobilised to deal with a phenomenon that has the same characteristics", he added.

    The Nairobi meeting is a regional version of the first-ever global conference on "terrorism", organised by the UN in 2018 in New York City.

    Al Jazeera's Malcolm Webb, reporting from Nairobi, said the UN was following up on this with five regional counterterrorism conferences, of which the Nairobi meeting is the second.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies