Terrorist groups exploiting COVID-19 in Sahel, UN peacekeeping chief warns

Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations told the Security Council last week that the last six months have been particularly challenging as the G5 Sahel group, mustering Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, deploys a joint force to restore stability to the vast African sub-region.

“We are seeing attempts by terrorists and other groups in the region to capitalize on the pandemic to undermine State authority and destabilize Governments”, with innocent lives being lost daily, schools shuttered and many people denied access to basic social services, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, said.

“It will take years to rebuild affected communities in the Sahel even under the best of circumstances (as well as) sustained efforts to ensure that nobody is left behind”, added the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations.

“In the face of such loss and devastation, we cannot be passive.”

Mr. Lacroix was briefing a videoconference meeting of the Security Council as the United Nations considers options for beefing up its support for the G5 Sahel Joint Force, including through its MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali.

He said that the Joint Force is making “tangible and encouraging progress” in building up its ranks and establishing a command structure based in Niamey that will cooperate with other international forces in the Sahel.

Those efforts have led to an ongoing major military operation, code-named Sama, that is “progressing well”, he reported.

“The G5 Sahel Joint force is on the right track, but there is still a long way to go”, he said, adding that a stronger Joint Force is only part of a comprehensive international approach for the Sahel that includes improving governance, eradicating poverty and protecting human rights for all.

Mr. Lacroix also pointed out that with financial support from the European Union, MINUSMA is providing “life support consumables” (food, water and fuel) within its mandate. However, he warned, the Mission is running at maximum capacity and cannot do more for the Joint Force within its current Council-defined mandate and resources.

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