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Coronavirus: terrorist groups exploiting pandemic in Sahel, UN warns

France announced on Friday its forces had killed the leader of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali

Abdelmalek Droukdel, known as the emir of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, was killed in an operation Wednesday, June 3, in northern Mali along with several people in his entourage, French Defence Minister Florence Parly tweeted.  AP
Abdelmalek Droukdel, known as the emir of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, was killed in an operation Wednesday, June 3, in northern Mali along with several people in his entourage, French Defence Minister Florence Parly tweeted.  AP

Extremists in the Sahel region of Africa are capitalising on the Covid-19 pandemic to exploit authorities and destabilise governments, the UN peacekeeping chief warned on Friday.

Addressing the Security Council via videoconference, Jean-Pierre Lacroix said that the last six months had been particularly challenging for the G5 Sahel group of nations – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – which deploy a joint military command to bring stability to the vast African region.

“We are seeing attempts by terrorists and other groups in the region to capitalise on the pandemic to undermine State authority and destabilise Governments, with innocent lives being lost daily, schools shuttered and many people denied access to basic social services,” he said.

“It will take years to rebuild affected communities in the Sahel even under the best of circumstances (as well as) sustained efforts to ensure that nobody is left behind,” he added.

“In the face of such loss and devastation, we cannot be passive.”

The under-secretary-general for peace operations was speaking as the UN is considering increasing its support for the G5 Sahel Joint Task Force.

He said that the taskforce is making “tangible and encouraging progress” in increasing its presence and establishing a command structure based in Niamey, the capital of Niger, that will work with other international forces in the Sahel.

Those efforts have led to an ongoing major military operation, code-named Sama, that is “progressing well”, he said.

Ambassador James Roscoe, UK acting deputy permanent representative to the UN, said Covid-19 had created new challenges in the African region.

“It [Covid-19] will increase pressure on limited state resources and risks diverting international attention away from tackling the drivers of instability,” he said.

“In response, the United Kingdom is supporting governments and our humanitarian implementation partners in the Sahel to manage escalating health and humanitarian needs,” he added.

Meanwhile, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said on Friday that French forces had killed the leader of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Algerian Abdelmalek Droukdal, in Mali.

Ms Parly said Droukdal was killed on Thursday in the northwest Mali town of Tessalit, and many of his close associates were also "neutralised".

Updated: June 6, 2020 03:21 AM

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