France pledges to increase aid to Sahel by one third
France said Wednesday it will increase its development aid to the troubled Sahel by more than a third, linking the extra funds to the fight against jihadist groups in the vast African region.
The five nations in the sprawling area south of the Sahara -- Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger -- pooled their military resources to create the G5 Sahel force, which began operations on November 1.
The fledgling group is tasked with combatting Islamist terrorism after thousands of civilians have died in fighting, many of them in suicide bombings, and tens of thousands of people have fled their homes.
France, the former colonial power in the Sahel, is the scheme's biggest political backer and provided a hefty dose of support to help the new 5,000-troop multinational force get going.
The new French special envoy for the Sahel, Jean-Marc Chataigner, announced further support for the region at a press conference in Mauritania's capital Nouakchott on Wednesday.
"Development and security must go together in the Sahel: one cannot exist without the other," Chataigner said, according to remarks tweeted by the French Embassy in Mauritania.
"Development aid in this region is currently in the order of 600 million euros ($695 million) and it will increase, according to our estimates, by more than 200 million euros", he said.
The former director general of the Research Institute for Development, who was appointed on August 31, is touring the region, where France has a 4,000-man anti-terrorist force, called Barkhane.