Spain says PM off to Africa for summit on Sahel region security issues


Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez S

MADRID, June 30 (NNN-AGENCIES) — Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is to make his first international trip since the coronavirus crisis to west Africa on Tuesday for a summit on Sahel region issues with other heads of state including France’s President Emmanuel Macron.

The European leaders will be joined in Mauritania by heads of the so-called G5 Sahel states – also including Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger – and U.N. boss Antonio Guterres, Sanchez’s office said in a statement.

The region is plagued by jihadi violence.

Sanchez’s office said he would deliver some COVID-19 aid to Mauritania when he arrives for the meeting. Migration issues were also on the agenda, the statement said.

Former colonial power France has deployed thousands of soldiers in the arid Sahel region south of the Sahara desert since 2013. But violence by groups linked to al Qaeda and Daesh has been on the rise.

Mauritania has long been a launchpad for African migrants trying to reach Spain’s Canary Islands.

Meanwhile, a French presidential source said Mali and Burkina Faso must guarantee at the Sahel summit that their domestic political problems do not reverse fragile military successes against militants in the Sahel region.

Leaders of the G5 Sahel states of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania will meet French President Emmanuel Macron and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Nouakchott on Tuesday to assess recent military victories and plan next steps.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who is set to confirm a contribution to a special forces unit in the Sahel, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will also take part by video call.

But there are fears that recent advances may be derailed amid political instability in the Sahel.

“All the progress that’s been made is fragile and can be put into question if the political momentum does not follow,” the French official said ahead of a summit.

“We see that in the Burkina and Mali context…So (what’s at) stake is to put in guarantees so that these electoral contexts don’t weaken the gains that have been achieved.”

Burkina Faso will hold legislative and presidential elections in November in which incumbent President Marc Roch Kabore is expected to seek a second term against opponents challenging his approach to tackling militants.

In Mali, there are growing concerns about instability in recent weeks after thousands of people took to the streets for the second time in a month to demand President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita step down.

Keita, in the middle of his second five-year mandate after a 2018 election, has struggled with an surge in militant attacks. — NNN-AGENCIES