Summit crucial to EU support for Africa’s Sahel region: Italian PM

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Brussels, Feb 23 (IANS/AKI) An international summit on the Sahel held here on Friday was “a very important moment” for Europe’s commitment to the “fragile” African region, Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said.

“I believe the EU and African Union conference to support the G5 Sahel is a very important moment to confirm Europe’ commitment in Africa, especially the Sahel region.

This is due to its infiltration by terrorists, climate change, economic vulnerability and migration flows,” he said, adding it was “an especially fragile and crucial area”.

At Friday’s high-level meeting, the EU announced an extra 50 million euros for the G5 Sahel force tackling jihadists in the region at talks with heads of state from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, who set up the “G5 Sahel” in 2014.

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The extra funds came on top of some 280 million euros already pledged by international donors.

The summit was also attended by France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and other top European leaders and came after two soldiers from France’s counter-terror force in West Africa were killed on Wednesday in northeastern Mali when their vehicle hit a mine.

“We expressed solidarity with France for the two soldiers who were killed in recent days, ” Gentiloni said.

“We confirmed our commitment to the fundamental role of the EU.

“For a country like Italy, this means a long-term commitment to counter the risks of terrorism and the underlying causes of migration,” he said.

As well as EU leaders and the United Nations, around a dozen other countries’ Foreign Ministers were at Friday’s summit including Saudi Arabia – the biggest donor to the G5 Sahel, Norway, Morocco and Tunisia.

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Gentiloni also said that his country and other European Union nations are working to help Sahel countries develop as a crucial part of the joint fight against terrorism and human trafficking in the region.

“Terrorism and migration can only be tackled through cooperation with the Sahel countries and through their development,” he said.

Results are being achieved also through efforts to stabilise Libya and cut the numbers of migrants landing in Italy, he added.

“This all shows how Europe is working together and it is the best way of countering populism and anti-Europeanism,” Gentiloni said as he headed into an informal meeting in Brussels of European Union heads of state and government after attending a conference on the Sahel.

–IANS/AKI

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