France hosts conference on Sahel security

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French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference on Wednesday 4 December following the NATO summit in London./ PHOTO: French Presidency

France is holding a security summit to help re-legitimize the French operation in the Sahel region, where French troops have been deployed for years to tackle Islamist terrorism.

The summit began on Monday, chaired by President Emmanuel Macron and attended by leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania.

President Macron late last year urged the African leaders to make their positions known on the presence of French troops in the Sahel region. This was after both local and international criticism sparked by the killing of 13 soldiers in a helicopter collision.

France has some 4,500 troops in the Sahel region. While their presence has had notable gains, terror groups continue to stage attacks, often targeting security forces.

While on a visit to Cote d’Ivoire last month, President Macron rejected accusations that the deployment of French troops in the Sahel region was motivated by economic purposes.

“I don’t belong to a generation that has known colonialism,” the 42-year-old said.

“We need to define much more clearly the military, political and development objectives for the next six, 12 and 18 months,” he added, hinting at a change of approach in the fight against extremism.

AP news agency reports an unnamed presidency source to say France wants its troops to focus on the porous border separating Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso where extremist fighters flow with little challenge.

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is also expected to grace the summit, along with European Council President Charles Michel, European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell and African Union Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat.

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