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More money for Sahel anti-terrorist force

Brussels – The European Union has pledged to double its funding for a Sahel military force aimed at fighting terrorism and bringing stability to the volatile African region.

Several challenges

The Sahel region is a vast conflict-ridden territory spanning the southern edges of the Sahara desert, facing challenges including extreme poverty, food shortages and poor governance.

The area has become infiltrated by Islamist groups and other terrorist organizations, as well as being a hotbed for organized crime and illegal migration networks - posing a threat as far away as Europe and beyond.

Five Sahel countries - Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger - joined forces in 2014 to tackle these issues and crack down with combined military might, forming the G5 Sahel Joint Force.

The European Union was the first to support the G5 Sahel Joint Force last year, pledging 50 million euros (61.45 million dollars).

On Friday, at a Brussels meeting of international donors, the bloc doubled its funding, while inviting others to contribute generously to the military effort.

Millions of dollars needed

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for "ambitious" contributions towards security and development in the Sahel, noting that problems such as extreme poverty, climate change, a demographic surge, unemployment and high levels of migration go hand in hand with the security challenges faced by the region.

"We must act resolutely to change the face of the Sahel region or run the risk of seeing this part of the world sink inexorably into violence and chaos," added Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou, who currently heads the G5 Sahel group.

"The Sahel is one of Europe's frontiers," he added.

Ahead of Friday's talks, countries including the United States, Saudi Arabia and individual European capitals had indicated that they would provide funding of around 220 million euros, according to EU sources.

Experts estimate that the G5 Sahel Force will need an overall 500 million dollars to become fully operational.

The conference, conducted the same day as an EU summit in Brussels, was attended by around 30 leaders and other senior officials, including representatives of the United Nations, African Union and the World Bank.