European leaders boost Sahel anti-extremist funding

French President Emmanuel Macron called for greater efforts to help West Africa’s vast Sahel region during Friday’s summit in Brussels. (AFP)
Updated 24 February 2018
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European leaders boost Sahel anti-extremist funding

BRUSSELS: European leaders on Friday doubled their funding for a force tackling extremist militants in the Sahel, but African leaders warned the money must come quickly if it is to be effective.
The EU announced an extra $61 million for the G5 Sahel force at a conference in Brussels with heads of state from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, taking total pledges by international donors to over $504 million.
But just a fraction of that money is currently available to spend and Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou, the current chair of the G5 Sahel group, said it was needed urgently to deal with an influx of Daesh fighters driven out of Libya and Syria.
The chaos in Libya, where rival militias, tribes and terrorists are vying for influence, is fueling instability in the Sahel, Issoufou and African Union Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat warned, calling for an international push to bring peace to the oil-rich state.
“The Libyan crisis has been, we know, the detonator of the degradation of the security situation in the Sahel, and day after day, it contributes to its amplification,” said Issoufou.
“We must put an end to this chaos by restoring the authority of the Libyan state to the whole of its territory.”
Friday’s meeting was attended by 32 leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir also took part, after Saudi Arabia pledged $100 million to the G5 force in December.
“We are ready to provide anti-terrorism assistance in the African Sahel region,” he said later, in a speech in Brussels.
The meeting observed a minute’s silence in honor of two soldiers from France’s counter-terror force in West Africa who were killed in a mine blast on Wednesday.
It was the latest in a surge of attacks underscoring the challenge facing the five countries, among the poorest in the world, which are on the frontline of a war against Islamist militants.
Europe hopes that spending money to improve the security and economic situation in the region will help stem the flow of migrants seeking a better life across the Mediterranean and prevent the Sahel becoming a springboard for extremist attacks on the West. The G5 force aims to train and equip 5,000 local troops to patrol hotspots and restore authority in lawless areas. As well as fighting militants, the force also tackles smuggling and illegal immigration networks that operate in the vast, remote areas on the margins of the Sahara.
“Daesh fighters driven out of Libya and Syria are taking refuge in the Sahel, especially from Libya, so it’s urgent the pledged funds are mobilized as quickly as possible,” Mahamadou said.
The force has so far set up a headquarters and command structure and carried out two operations, with French support, in the troubled “tri-border” area where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet.
It is intended to become fully operational in mid-2018, and to operate alongside France’s 4,000 troops in the area as well as the UN’s 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali.
Mahamat said extremist groups would likely step up attacks in Mali as the G5 force geared up, warning “they’re not going to sit back with their arms crossed.”
Recent operations against militants in northern Mali have left around 30 rebels dead, Macron said, vowing “total determination” to defeat the threat.
Opening the conference, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said “security and development must go hand in hand” in the Sahel, an area almost as big as the EU where a fifth of the population do not have reliable food supplies.
The bloc has budgeted nearly $9.8 billion for development assistance in the Sahel from 2014 to 2020, while France pledged $1.5 billion over the next five years and Germany $2 billion.
The EU’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said more pledges from individual countries were expected, saying “the price of not having peace has to be paid every day.”


Some see signs of hope on North Korea as Trump heads to UN

Updated 22 September 2018
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Some see signs of hope on North Korea as Trump heads to UN

  • In the year since Trump’s searing, debut UN speech fueled fears of nuclear conflict with North Korea
  • The two leaders have turned from threats to flattery

WASHINGTON:North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is “little rocket man” no more. President Donald Trump isn’t a “mentally deranged US dotard.”
In the year since Trump’s searing, debut UN speech fueled fears of nuclear conflict with North Korea, the two leaders have turned from threats to flattery.
And there’s fresh hope that the US president’s abrupt shift from coercion to negotiation can yield results in getting Kim to halt, if not abandon, his nuclear weapons program.
Trump will address world leaders at the United Nations on Tuesday on the back of an upbeat summit between South and North Korea, where Kim promised to dismantle a major rocket launch site and the North’s main nuclear complex at Nyongbyon if it gets some incentive from Washington.
North Korea remains a long, long way from relinquishing its nuclear arsenal, and the US has been adding to, not easing, sanctions. Yet the past 12 months have seen a remarkable change in atmosphere between the adversaries that has surprised even the former US envoy on North Korea.
“If someone had told me last year that North Korea will stop nuclear tests, will stop missile tests and that they will release the remaining American prisoners and that they would be even considering dismantling Nyongbyon, I would have taken that in a heartbeat,” said Joseph Yun, who resigned in March and has since left the US foreign service.
Since Trump and Kim held the first summit between US and North Korean leaders in Singapore in June, Trump has missed no chance to praise “Chairman Kim,” and Kim has expressed “trust and confidence” in the American president he once branded “senile.”
But progress has been slow toward the vague goal they agreed upon — denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which has eluded US presidents for the past quarter-century. The US wants to achieve that by January 2021, when Trump completes his first term in office.
Although Kim won’t be going to New York next week, meetings there could prove critical in deciding whether a second Trump-Kim summit will take place any time soon.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has invited his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho for a meeting in New York, and Trump will be consulting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, fresh from his third summit with Kim this year. It was at that meeting in Pyongyang that the North Korean leader made his tantalizing offers to close key facilities of his weapons programs that have revived prospects for US-North Korea talks.
Yun, who spoke to reporters Friday at the United States Institute for Peace in Washington, said the US goal of achieving denuclearization in just two years is unrealistic, but the offer to close Nyongbyon, where the North has plutonium, uranium and nuclear reprocessing facilities, is significant and offers a way forward.
That’s a far cry from last September. After Trump’s thunderous speech, Yun’s first thought was on the need to avoid a war. The president vowed to “totally destroy North Korea” if the US was forced to defend itself or its allies against the North’s nukes. “Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime,” the president said.
His blunt talk triggered an extraordinary, almost surreal, exchange of insults. Kim issued a harshly worded statement from Pyongyang, dubbing the thin-skinned Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard.” A day later, the North’s top diplomat warned it could test explode a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean.
Tensions have eased hugely since then, and cracks have emerged in the international consensus on pressuring North Korea economically to get it to disarm.
The US accuses Russia of allowing illicit oil sales to North Korea. Trump has also criticized China, which has fraternal ties with the North and is embroiled in a trade war with the US, for conducting more trade with its old ally. Sanctions could even become a sore point with South Korea. Moon is eager to restart economic cooperation with North Korea to cement improved relations on the divided peninsula.
All that will increase pressure on Washington to compromise with Pyongyang — providing the incentives Kim seeks, even if the weapons capabilities he’s amassed violate international law. He’s likely eying a declaration on formally ending the Korean War as a marker of reduced US “hostility” and sanctions relief.
That could prove politically unpalatable in Washington just as it looks for Kim to follow through on the denuclearization pledge he made in Singapore.
Frank Aum, a former senior Pentagon adviser on North Korea, warned tensions could spike again if the US does not see progress by year’s end, when the US would typically need to start planning large-scale military drills with South Korea that North Korea views as war preparations. Trump decided to cancel drills this summer as a concession to Kim.
“Things can flip pretty quickly,” Aum said. “We’ve seen it going from bad to good and it could fairly quickly go back to the bad again.”