26 January 2012 – The United Nations political chief today called for the establishment of a mechanism to address the myriad challenges facing countries in West Africa’s Sahel region, which, he said, include a humanitarian crisis, lack of socio-economic development, insecurity and the threat of terrorism.
“To be able to deal with the challenges in the Sahel region and to have a comprehensive, long- lasting impact, we need to put in place a mechanism that would bring together all the affected countries and major outside actors in a coordinated manner to discuss the issues and devise solutions,” B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the Security Council.
Briefing the Council on the findings of the United Nations-led mission that visited Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania last month to look into the impact of last year’s crisis in Libya on the Sahel region, Mr. Pascoe said that it was clear that most of the challenges pre-date the Libyan conflict.
“On the question of the returnees from Libya, the topmost priority for the countries visited was to feed and reintegrate the vulnerable returnees and to help the affected communities cope with the loss of remittances,” he said.
“Compounding these immediate problems are underlying structural challenges and a looming food crisis in the area. There were strong appeals for the United Nations, working in tandem with the African Union and others, as well as with the new authorities in Libya, to find a mutually satisfactory framework for rebuilding relationships between the Sahel region and the countries of transit and destination,” Mr. Pascoe told the Council.
Recent developments in the region reinforce the concerns consistently made to the mission by its interlocutors in the countries visited.
The security situation in Mali has significantly worsened following heavy fighting on 17 and 18 January between Government forces and ethnic Tuareg militias in the north, an area close to the borders with Niger and Algeria.
Mr. Pascoe told the Council that Tuareg fighters, who are members of the self-proclaimed ‘Azawad National Liberation Movement,’ have asserted that they are seeking to drive the Government out of several towns where Tuareg communities are dominant.
In neighbouring Niger, President Mahamadou Issoufou, voiced concern on Sunday over the danger of similar violence occurring in his country, and affirmed his Government’s determination to avert the spread of Tuareg attacks.
“The security equilibrium in the northern regions of Niger and Mali is especially volatile due to the enhanced presence and heightened activity there of the Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb group and other criminal networks who use these vast, poorly guarded and largely desert territories as safe havens and training ground for their illicit operations,” said Mr. Pascoe.
He said that despite the structural challenges that international and regional efforts to address the Sahel problems would face, the readiness of all the countries inside and outside the region, as well as regional organisations and the UN system, to work together to develop a more comprehensive and coherent approach is encouraging.
“It is critical that the international community responds to the strong and consistent calls by the concerned countries to support ongoing initiatives.
“Some of the problems are directly related to the fall of the [Muammar] al-Qadhafi regime in Libya, but the mission’s interlocutors emphasized that most of the problems are long-standing ones, and current drought conditions make it obvious that the overall situation could deteriorate quickly,” said Mr. Pascoe.
He told the Council that a ministerial-level meeting is planned to review the situation in Sahel during the Africa Union Summit next weekend and develop approaches to deal with the problems. The report of the UN-led mission, which was headed by Sam Ibok, the Deputy Director of the UN Department of Political Affairs’ Africa II Division, will be discussed at that meeting.