AU summit host warns of 'security failings' in Sahel amid new Mali attack


An African Union summit opened on Sunday with host Mauritania warning of regional security failings in the face of jihadist violence, as French soldiers were targeted in a fresh attack in Mali. A bombing aimed at French soldiers on patrol in the country's troubled north killed four civilians and injured over 20 people, Malian authorities said.

On Friday, a suicide bombing hit the Mali headquarters of the five-nation force known as G5 Sahel, adding to concerns about how it can tackle the jihadist groups roaming the region. It was the first attack on the headquarters of the five-nation force, which was set up with French backing in 2017 to fight jihadist insurgents and criminal groups in the vast and unstable Sahel region.

In total, four separate attacks killed 15 people in Mali in three days, as the West African nation prepares to go to the polls on 29 July.

The leaders of the G5 Sahel states – Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger and Chad – held a meeting on Sunday on the sidelines of the AU summit, according to a diplomatic source from one of the member countries. The meeting was aimed at preparing discussions between French President Emmanuel Macron and his G5 Sahel counterparts, the same source said.

Security is high on the agenda at the AU summit in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott being attended by more than 40 African heads of state and government as well as Macron, who will meet G5 leaders to focus on progress made by the force.

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said the Friday bombing "hit the heart" of the region's security and lashed out at a lack of international help.

The al-Qaida-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims, the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel, claimed the attack in a telephone call to the Mauritanian news agency Al-Akhbar.

"It was a message sent by the terrorists at this precise moment when we are getting organised to stabilise and secure our region," Aziz told France24 television. "If the headquarters were attacked, it is because there are so many failings we need to fix if we want to bring stability to the Sahel."

The G5 aims to have a total of 5,000 troops from the five nations, but has faced funding problems. It operates 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.

Underscoring the regional insecurity, four Malian soldiers were also killed on Saturday when their vehicle drove over a landmine in the central Mopti region.

Aziz said the G5 was a "sovereign initiative" of Sahel states that face not only security problems but drought, poverty, unemployment and trafficking. "We are not at all satisfied with the help we are getting. We also feel that the doors of the United Nations are closed."

African leaders will also look at a planned ceasefire in South Sudan's civil war and at the detente between Ethiopia and Eritrea, whose relations have been poisoned for decades.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who holds the presidency of the 55-nation AU, will make a call to promote free trade.

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.

Meanwhile, discussing the flow of migrants from Africa to Europe, Aziz told France24 it was a "result of the 'destruction' of Libya by Western strikes".

"I am not saying that all responsibility lies with Europe, we must deal with the problem upstream," said the former general who took power in a coup in 2008 and has since been elected twice.    (AFP)

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