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    West African leaders agree billion-dollar anti-terrorism plan

    OUAGADOUGOU (AFP) – West African leaders on Saturday announced a billion-dollar plan to fight the rising problem of extremist violence in the region, at a summit in Burkina Faso.

    The plan, to be funded from 2020 to 2024, was announced at the end of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Summit in Ouagadougou, where the ECOWAS nations were joined by Mauritania and Chad.

    ECOWAS had decided to mobilise “the financial resources of up to a billion dollars for the fight against terrorism”, said Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou.

    The money, paid into a common fund, would help reinforce the military operations of the nations involved – and those of the joint military operations in the region.

    Full details of the plan would be presented to the next ECOWAS summit in December.

    The fight against the rising tide of extremist violence in the region has so far been hampered by a lack of funds.

    The G5 Sahel, a joint taskforce, was created in 2014 to try to tackle the problem.

    From July 2017, it pooled troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in a bid to drive back the terrorist groups.

    But a lack of finance, training and equipment, limited their effectiveness and their numbers. For the moment, the force numbers 4,000 troops, when 5,000 were originally planned.

    West African leaders at the opening ceremony of ECOWAS G5 security summit in Ouagadougou. PHOTO: AFP

    Niger’s Issoufou dismissed suggestions that the G5 Sahel taskforce was ineffective.

    “The G5 is far from dead. The (summit’s) final communique shows the support for it within ECOWAS,” he said.

    ECOWAS brings together 15 countries whose economies range from regional heavyweights Nigeria and Ivory Coast to the impoverished Liberia and Sierra Leone.

    Landlocked Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are non-coastal states.

    At the start of the summit, the president of the ECOWAS Commission, Jean-Claude Brou, pointed to the mounting human, economic and political toll of the extremist attacks.

    He said, “2,200 attacks in the last four years, 11,500 dead, thousands wounded… millions of displaced and economic activity has been greatly affected.”

    Burkino Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore argued that “threats transcend borders. No country is safe” and that “the escalation of violence has led to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis” in the Sahel.

    Last Thursday, two soldiers were killed in two simultaneous attacks in Burkina Faso’s north, security sources told AFP, the latest in a series of deadly attacks on security forces in the landlocked West African nation.

    Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara said “MINUSMA (the UN mission in Mali) and the G5 Sahel are not enough. We have to find wider and more effective means of coordination.”

    Niger’s Issoufou also insisted that “the international community cannot turn a blind eye and must assume its responsibilities”.

    ECOWAS would also ask the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to consider security spending as an “investment” and drum up support from Western and Arab donors in the fight against extremism, he said.

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