AU summit overshadowed by ‘security failings’ in Sahel after attacks

Members of the Mauritanian security forces guard the area close to the Mourabitoune International Conference Center where the African Union (AU) summit is taking place on July 2, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 02 July 2018

AU summit overshadowed by ‘security failings’ in Sahel after attacks

  • Macron landed Monday afternoon for an exceptional appearance at an African Union (AU) summit
  • The summit was overshadowed by security issues after Islamist militant hammered two fragile Sahel states in successive attacks

NOUAKCHOTT: French President Emmanuel Macron joined African leaders gathered in the Mauritanian capital on Monday for the final day of a summit overshadowed by security issues after Islamist militant hammered two fragile Sahel states in successive attacks.
Macron landed Monday afternoon for an exceptional appearance at an African Union (AU) summit. He is expected to discuss hurdles facing a five-nation French-backed anti-terror unit, the “G5 Sahel” force.
“Our thoughts are with our Malian friends after tragic and cowardly attacks,” Macron said. “Several French soldiers were injured and are being evacuated. The first victims are Malian civilians.”
As the summit opened on Sunday, a bomb aimed at French soldiers in Mali’s troubled north killed four civilians and injured over 20 people. Four soldiers were among the wounded.
In Niger, Boko Haram insurgents targeted a military position in the southeast, killing 10 soldiers — a reminder of the peril that Nigeria’s notorious jihadists pose to neighboring countries.
On Friday, a suicide bombing hit the headquarters of the G5 Sahel in central Mali, fueling concerns about its ability to tackle jihadist groups roaming the region.
It was the first attack on the headquarters of the five-nation force, set up with French backing in 2017 to fight jihadist insurgents and criminal groups in the vast and unstable Sahel region.
The G5 Sahel leaders — from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger — met Sunday to prepare for talks with Macron.
“We won’t let Mali fall apart, we will assume our responsibilities,” Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita told France 24 on Monday.
Apparently linking insecurity in the Sahel to the migrant crisis shaking European politics, he warned: “If the Sahel falls to terrorist threats, the shores of the Mediterranean will be overwhelmed.”
Separately, the summit also decided to create a body, based in the Moroccan capital of Rabat, to help coordinate national policies on migration.
“These attacks should strengthen our determination to fight terrorism to ensure our populations’ security,” Niger’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou, told AFP on the sidelines of the summit.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, hosting the gathering of more than 40 heads of state and government, said Friday’s bombing “hit (at) the heart” of security in the Sahel and lashed out at a lack of international help.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims, the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel, have claimed both Friday’s attack on the G5 Sahel base and Sunday’s on French troops.
The G5 aims to have a total of 5,000 troops from the five nations but has faced funding problems and lack of equipment.
It is intended to operate alongside France’s 4,000 troops in the troubled “tri-border” area where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet, and alongside the UN’s 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali.
Aziz said the G5 was a “sovereign initiative” of Sahel states that face not only security problems but drought, poverty, unemployment and trafficking.
The string of attacks in the vast Sahel region hijacked a summit agenda meant to focus on free trade, funding and corruption.
Currently, African countries only conduct about 16 percent of their business with each other, the smallest amount of intra-regional trade compared to Latin America, Asia, North America and Europe.
In March, 44 nations signed a pact in March to create the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) — billed as the world’s largest in terms of participating countries.
Five new countries signed the agreement on Sunday: Burundi, Lesotho, Namibia, Sierra Leone and South Africa, one of the continent’s economic heavyweights and notable CFTA absentee until then.
The fruit of two years of negotiations, the CFTA is one of the AU’s flagship projects for greater African integration.
If all 55 AU members eventually sign up, it will create a bloc with a cumulative GDP of $2.5 trillion (two trillion euros) and cover a market of 1.2 billion people.

Filipino rebel chiefs become officials under peace deal

President Rodrigo Duterte, political leaders and officials flash the peace sign following Friday’s oath-taking ceremony in Manila. (AP)
Updated 51 min 36 sec ago

Filipino rebel chiefs become officials under peace deal

  • It is a very difficult and challenging process, says MILF spokesman

MANILA: Some of the fiercest Muslim rebel commanders in the southern Philippines were sworn in Friday as administrators of a new Muslim autonomous region in a delicate milestone to settle one of Asia’s longest-raging rebellions.

President Rodrigo Duterte led a ceremony to name Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Murad Ebrahim and some of his top commanders as among 80 administrators of a transition government for the five-province region called Bangsamoro.

About 12,000 combatants with thousands of firearms are to be demobilized starting this year under the peace deal.  Thousands of other guerrillas would disarm if agreements under the deal would be followed, including providing the insurgents with livelihood to help them return to normal life.

“We would like to see an end of the violence,” Duterte said. 

“After all, we go to war and shoot each other counting our victories not by the progress or development of the place but by the dead bodies that were strewn around during the violent years.”

About 150,000 people have died in the conflict over several decades and stunted development in the resource-rich region. 

Duterte promised adequate resources, a daunting problem in the past.

The Philippine and Western governments and the guerrillas see an effective Muslim autonomy as an antidote to nearly half a century of secessionist violence, which Daesh could exploit to gain a foothold.

“The dream that we have fought for is now happening and there’s no more reason for us to carry our guns and continue the war,” rebel forces spokesman Von Al-Haq said in an interview ahead of the ceremony.

Several commanders long wanted for deadly attacks were given safety passes to be able to travel to Manila and join the ceremony, including Abdullah Macapaar, who uses the nom de guerre Commander Bravo, Al-Haq said. 

Known for his fiery rhetoric while wearing his camouflage uniform and brandishing his assault rifle and grenades, Macapaar will be one of the 41 regional administrators from the rebel front.

Duterte will pick his representatives to fill the rest of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, which will also act as a regional Parliament with Murad as the chief minister until regular officials are elected in 2022.

Members of the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a 1996 autonomy deal that has largely been seen as a failure, will also be given seats in the autonomous government.

Disgruntled fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front broke off and formed new armed groups, including the notorious Abu Sayyaf, which turned to terrorism and banditry after losing its commanders early in battle. 

The Abu Sayyaf has been blacklisted by the US as a terrorist organization and has been suspected of staging a suspected Jan. 27 suicide bombing that killed 23 mostly churchgoers in a Roman Catholic cathedral on southern Jolo island.

“We have already seen the pitfalls,” Al-Haq said, acknowledging that the violence would not stop overnight because of the presence of the Abu Sayyaf and other armed groups, some linked to Daesh. 

“It’s a very difficult and challenging process.”