Terrorism: Macron meets G5-Sahel Countries’ leaders
French President Emmanuel Macron is meeting this Monday the presidents of the five countries forming the G5-Sahel, namely Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, to discuss the future of French military presence in the region.
President Macron last Month called for the meeting, taking place in the southwestern French city of Pau, in the wake of the killing of 13 French soldiers in Mali.
The French soldiers died when two helicopters collided on the night of November 26.
“I can’t, nor do I want French soldiers on the ground while there is anti-French sentiment that is sometimes held by the leaders (of the African countries),” Bloomberg then quoted the French president as saying.
Macron insists his African counterparts must use this week meeting to express public support for France’s military presence—by far the largest foreign contribution to the fight against African jihadists aligned to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State group.
France has 4,500 soldiers stationed in the Europe-sized region as part of Operation Barkhane, supporting poorly equipped, impoverished local armies that in 2017 launched the joint anti-jihadist G5 Sahel force.
The Pau meeting, initially scheduled in December, was postponed after a jihadist attack claimed the lives of 71 Niger soldiers. And last Thursday another attack by jihadists left 89 Niger soldiers dead.
Recent tensions between France and Sahel governments could make for a tricky exchange at the six-way talks in Pau, to be attended also by the heads of the UN, African Union Commission, and EU Council.
Mali’s Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta has said the Pau summit will be “decisive” and “will allow us to put on the table all the questions, all the grievances, all the solutions”.
However, he insisted, the G5 leaders would demand a “respectable and respectful relationship” with France.
President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré of Burkina Faso has described Macron’s recent insistences as “lacking in tact”.
Niger’s Mahamadou Issoufou said the summit would “launch an appeal for international solidarity so that the Sahel and France are not alone in this fight”.
The other presidents expected at the Pau meeting are Chadian Idriss Déby, and Mauritanian Mohamed Ahmed Ould Ghazouani.
The sub-region is one of the most unstable, with UN reports calling for attention to humanitarian challenges as well.
Jihadist fighters have recently stepped up their campaign against military and civilian targets. Earlier this month, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned that “terrorist groups are gaining ground.”