Sahel military chiefs mull Libyan arms control
By Nazim Fethi for Magharebia in Algiers – 23/11/11
The first session of the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum (GCTF) wrapped up in Algiers last week with the adoption of a roadmap for Sahel security.
The two-day closed door conference finished on Thursday (November 17th) with a focus on two topics of concern: controlling Libyan weapons throughout vast desert tracts and stamping out the sources of finance for terrorism and crime.
Experts stressed the need for the new Libyan government to recover weapons and they welcomed the commitment from countries in the Sahel to do everything possible to stop the spread of Libyan arms. They also reiterated the readiness of the international community to help Libya in this area.
The Libyan authorities were called upon to gather in the weapons from the Kadhafi regime, particularly portable surface-to-air missiles which could bring down civilian aircraft.
"The security situation in the Sahel-Sahara area is of the utmost concern," according to the conference's draft action plan for 2012-2013. "Some areas located far from the capitals and urban centres are partially, or even totally, out of the control of the central authorities."
According to the document, the resulting administrative and security vacuum has created "dynamics with a high capacity to destabilise". The statement added that terror groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) "are trying to exploit [certain countries'] structural weaknesses" to find safe havens.
"Thanks to ransom payments received in exchange for hostages, AQIM can continue its activities, including the recruitment and training of new members," said the forum's action plan document.
On the issue of border security, the action plan calls for increased access to the Interpol database, improved intelligence sharing, additional equipment, training for personnel overseeing monitoring operations, checks on travellers (at borders and in airports), and threat detection. The document also recommended new counter-terror laws and mechanisms to monitor individuals with suspected terrorist links.
The conference recommended co-ordination between financial investigation units throughout the region to cut off funds for terrorism.
As experts discussed Sahel security strategy, countries on the ground were working to put words into action. On the day after the meeting, the joint Algerian-Nigerien committee met in Algiers to explore ways in which to further develop bilateral co-operation.
Nigerien Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum said that "the countries in the field have managed to create a framework which now needs to be made to work."
"Up until now, it seems to me, we have set up the essential institutional tools to implement a shared approach to dealing with security problems. It is up to us now – and this is important – to make sure that our joint military chiefs of staff can do their job," said Bazoum.
"We need to make sure that these institutions which we have created, and which are to be called upon to deal with insecurity, really do their work," he added, saying that this issue needed to be seen as a "challenge" by regional countries.
Similarly, Bazoum highlighted the opportunity offered by the forthcoming meeting of foreign ministers from the countries not directly involved in the discussions, namely Nigeria, Chad and Burkina Faso, set for December 2nd-3rd, to identify ways and means to make these joint bodies operational.
"Whatever our goodwill and the efforts that we make, if we are in a situation of insecurity, then everything could be jeopardised, and our goodwill will not be enough to get us over that insurmountable obstacle," he said.
The Algiers summit coincided with a meeting of the military chiefs of staff of Sahel states in Bamako, according to the Algerian defence ministry. The conference evaluated the security situation in the Sahel in accordance with the arrangements made in Tamanrasset in August 2009 between Mali, Mauritania, Mali and Niger.
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