Sahel nations need more support to fight extremism: UN chief

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres delivers a speech at a joint press conference with African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson following the opening session of the African-Regional High Level Conference on counter-terrorism in Nairobi, on July 10, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 10 July 2019

Sahel nations need more support to fight extremism: UN chief

  • “Unfortunately we are seeing that terrorism is progressing,” Guterres said

NAIROBI: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the international community Wednesday to support West Africa’s fight against violent extremism, saying the region alone could not be expected to contain the spread of jihadism.
A raging Islamist insurgency shows no signs of weakening in the Sahel, where armed groups have gained ground and displaced millions across a large swathe of the troubled region.
Guterres said the problem was spreading beyond the region and the G-5 Sahel force — a joint military effort by Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mauritania to battle the militants — needed greater outside backing than it was getting.
“Unfortunately we are seeing that terrorism is progressing,” Guterres told reporters at the opening of a two-day conference in the Kenyan capital on the fight against extremism in Africa.
“It started in Mali, it went to Burkina Faso, Niger and now, when we speak with the presidents of Ghana, Benin, Togo, and Ivory Coast, they say that terrorism is coming to their borders.”
The UN chief said it was essential African forces had “the adequate mandate and the adequate financing” to do their job, and called for joint efforts to fight extremism beyond the G-5 Sahel.
“I think now it would be important that we are open to support any African initiative involving all the countries of the region, in which the threat that is spreading,” he said.
The presidents of West Africa “believe that we need a much more robust and collective response, that the international community needs to find the mechanisms to fully support it.”
The G-5 Sahel leaders have repeatedly called for a mandate under Chapter VII of the UN Charter — measures which could authorize the use of sanctions or military intervention in situations where peace and security is threatened.
Their request has been denied, something Guterres said he regretted. Agreed funding for the G-5 Sahel force has been slow to arrive.
African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat expressed “difficulty understanding the international community’s procrastination” in financing security operations on the continent.
“It is an incomprehensible situation, the phenomenon is deepening,” he said.
As in Syria and Iraq “the entire international community must be mobilized to deal with a phenomenon that has the same characteristics.”
The Nairobi meeting is a regional version of the first ever global conference on terrorism, organized by the United Nations in 2018 in New York.


No Rohingya turn up for repatriation to Myanmar

Updated 7 min 47 sec ago

No Rohingya turn up for repatriation to Myanmar

  • Thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar in 2017
  • The refugees asked Myanmar authorities to guarantee their safety and citizenship
TEKNAF, Bangladesh: A fresh push to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar appeared Thursday to fall flat, with no one turning up to hop on five buses and 10 trucks laid on by Bangladesh.
“We have been waiting since 9:00 am (0300 GMT) to take any willing refugees for repatriation,” Khaled Hossain, a Bangladesh official in charge of the Teknaf refugee camp, told AFP after over an hour of waiting.
“Nobody has yet turned up.”
Some 740,000 of the long-oppressed mostly Muslim Rohingya minority fled a military offensive in 2017 in Myanmar’s Rakhine state that the United Nations has likened to ethnic cleansing, joining 200,000 already in Bangladesh.
Demanding that Buddhist-majority Myanmar guarantee their safety and citizenship, only a handful have returned from the vast camps in southeast Bangladesh where they have now lived for two years.
The latest repatriation attempt — a previous push failed in November — follows a visit last month to the camps by high-ranking officials from Myanmar led by Permanent Foreign Secretary Myint Thu.
Bangladesh’s foreign ministry forwarded a list of more than 22,000 refugees to Myanmar for verification and Naypyidaw cleared 3,450 individuals for “return.”
But on Wednesday, several Rohingya refugees whose names were listed told AFP that said they did not want to return unless their safety was ensured and they were granted citizenship.
“It is not safe to return to Myanmar,” one of them, Nur Islam, told AFP.
Officials from the UN and Bangladesh’s refugee commission have also been interviewing Rohingya families in the settlements to find out if they wanted to return.
“We have yet to get consent from any refugee family,” a UN official said Wednesday.
Rohingya community leader Jafar Alam told AFP the refugees had been gripped by fear since authorities announced the fresh repatriation process.
They also feared being sent to camps for internally displaced people (IDP) if they went back to Myanmar.
Bangladesh refugee commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said they were “fully prepared” for the repatriation with security being tightened across the refugee settlements to prevent any violence or protests.
Officials said they would wait for a few more hours before deciding whether to postpone the repatriation move.
In New York, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday that repatriations had to be “voluntary.”
“Any return should be voluntary and sustainable and in safety and in dignity to their place of origin and choice,” Dujarric told reporters.
The UN Security Council met behind closed doors on the issue on Wednesday.
Sunday will mark the second anniversary of the crackdown that sparked the mass exodus to the Bangladesh camps.
The Rohingya are not recognized as an official minority by the Myanmar government, which considers them Bengali interlopers despite many families having lived in Rakhine for generations.