Western Diplomats Warn of Looming Disaster in West Africa, Sahel

Western diplomats have warned that the spread of extremist groups and persistent economic and social problems in Western Africa and the Sahel are nearing a tipping point that could have disastrous consequences for the region and beyond.

Officials from Europe and the United States warned Thursday that international efforts have so far failed to counter factors that are driving young people to take up arms and called for increased cooperation with countries in the region.

European Union Ambassador to the U.S., Stavros Lambrinidis warned that the rise of violent extremism and the worsening of the humanitarian situation in the Sahel and the wider West African region is threatening the future of the entire African continent

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The biggest concern has been Mali, where terrorists linked to groups like Islamic State and al-Qaida have continued to make inroads, and where the military government, which seized power in August 2020, postponed elections scheduled for this February until 2026.

Earlier this week, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed a series of sanctions against Mali’s interim government for refusing to hold elections as initially agreed, including the suspension of all commercial and financial transactions, and putting financial assistance on hold.

The EU on Thursday announced it would follow suit with its own sanctions against Mali’s interim government.

EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell said following a meeting with the EU defense minister in the French city of Brest that despite all the warnings that was made to the Malian authorities, there is still no sign of progress on the part of the authorities.

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Borell said that despite the imposition of sanctions, EU missions to Mali to train and advise Malian armed forces will continue.

Mali’s ambassador to the United Nations decried the ECOWAS sanctions as “illegal, illegitimate and inhumane” but said the interim government remains open to additional talks with its neighbors.

European officials have raised concerns about Mali’s decision to bring in mercenaries from the Russia-based Wagner Group to bolster its security forces – a charge that Mali’s interim government has denied.

The United Nations (U.N.) has called on Mali’s ruling junta to announce an election timetable amid anger over its suggestion of staying in power for five years before holding a vote.

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