European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, front row second left, and Chad's President Idriss Deby, front row center, stand with EU and Sahel leaders during a group photo at an EU-Sahel meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. European Union leaders meet Friday with counterparts from Africa's Sahel in a show of support for the impoverished region fallen prey to extremists and a key transit point for migrants heading to Europe. (John Thys, Pool Photo via AP)

Donors pledge $510 million to West Africa's Sahel region

February 23, 2018 - 7:25 am

BRUSSELS (AP) — International donors on Friday pledged 414 million euros ($510 million) to five impoverished countries in West Africa's Sahel region, much of it to fund a new counterterror force.

The 5,000-strong G5 Sahel force for Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger needs around 400 million euros for its mission along mostly desert borders, including near Libya — the main jumping-off point for thousands of African migrants bound for Italy.

The amount pledged "goes far beyond our initial expectations," said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. "It's a tremendous result that allows us to begin putting the force into operation."

The pledges came at a summit in Brussels of 32 leaders and 60 delegations meant to show political, development and security support for the five countries.

"The Sahel is one of Europe's frontiers. The Sahel is a shield, a dike that must never burst," said Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou. He reminded the leaders that "security is a global public good."

Security has deteriorated in the Sahel since 2011, with extremist attacks a regular occurrence, as fighters but also people seeking better lives in Europe move easily through the porous borders that have an estimated combined length of some 28,000 kilometers (17,500 miles).

More than 1,100 people have been killed since 2014, nearly 400 of them last year. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is considered the most active of around eight groups operating there.

But the EU insists it's not just about security. Brussels says political help and development assistance are vital in a region wracked by extreme poverty, harsh climate, food shortages and health crises.

"We need to support these five countries, especially also to give hope to the next generations so that they have also a future in their own country," said Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel.

The EU has invested more than 8 billion euros in development aid in the Sahel for 2014-2020. Part of that is self-interest as the EU seeks to ease its burden by tackling the root causes of migration.

While migrant arrivals through Libya have dropped, more than 120,000 people still left there last year. Many perish in the crossing of the Sahel and Sahara before they can even take their chances in the Mediterranean.


Associated Press writer Mike Corder in Brussels contributed.

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