UN: Africa's troubled Sahel region 'alarming'

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The U.N. Security Council on Thursday called the security situation in Africa's Sahel region "alarming," and it urged states there to better cooperate in fighting terrorist groups and the transnational crimes like drug trafficking that increasingly fund them.

International concerns remain high about the movement of terrorist groups across the dry, landlocked region south of the Sahara, especially in Mali, where al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb last year set up its version of an Islamic state after seizing the ancient cultural city of Timbuktu.

France intervened in January to help Mali retake its lost territory, but the northern city of Kidal remains one of the country's most insecure areas. Other terror threats include the deadly twin attacks in May by al-Qaida-linked suicide bombers on a military camp and a French-operated uranium mine in Niger.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the Sahel's needs, from security to basic development, as "immense."

Ban briefed the council on his visit to the region last month with the president of the World Bank, which with the European Union pledged $8.25 billion to boost economic growth and fight poverty there.

The Sahel region has vast stretches of barely populated areas, yet millions of people there continue to struggle with the daily basics of finding enough food. The U.N. estimates that 10 million people are facing food insecurity this year alone, and unemployment across West Africa at large has been estimated at more than 10 percent.

The Security Council adopted a nonbinding presidential statement Thursday that also praised the work of the council's al-Qaida Sanctions Committee in reaching out to Sahel and North African states for future collaboration on responding to the threat of al-Qaida in the region.

Romano Prodi, the secretary-general's special envoy to the Sahel, also pointed out Libya's precarious security situation since the overthrow of late dictator Moammar Gadhafi in early 2011, and its effect on the region.

Prodi called Libya "especially critical" and urged regional security cooperation to include it and other non-Sahel countries such as Algeria, Morocco and Senegal.

One theme of the discussion was strengthening governments, not just borders. U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said Washington is "examining ways to step up its efforts across the Sahel-Maghreb region to bolster democratic institutions."

An advance copy of Ban's report on West Africa at large, seen Thursday, warns of coming developments in the region's politics and security that include presidential elections in at least eight countries between 2014 and 2016 and "a significant drawdown of some United Nations peace missions in the region."

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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