Tackling al Qaeda in Sahel must be priority: India

India has stressed that dealing with al Qaeda linked terrorist groups in Africa`s Sahel region should be a key priority.

United Nations: India has stressed that dealing with al Qaeda linked terrorist groups in Africa`s Sahel region should be a key priority for the international community to stabilise the security situation in the area.

"In the immediate term, the priority should be the stabilisation of the security situation. This requires dealing with the threats of secessionist, extremist and Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups," Acting Permanent Representative of India to the UN Manjeev Singh Puri said at a UN Security Council briefing on the Sahel region yesterday.

He said political dialogue should be pursued with those willing to renounce terrorism and lay down arms, adding that a secure environment would also facilitate implementation of programmes for national reconciliation and delivery of humanitarian assistance.

"Given the expanding activities of terrorist networks and armed groups in the region, the United Nations should also assist the affected countries in strengthening the capacities of security agencies and in enhancing cooperation at the regional level towards more effective border control, combating illicit trafficking in arms and drugs and organised crime and terrorism," he said.

Puri noted that the Sahel region has long faced several challenges in the political, economic and humanitarian spheres.

Over the past year, the situation has aggravated due to the crisis in the neighbourhood, most acutely shown by the developments in Mali.

The proliferation of weapons, activities of rebel and terrorist groups, and transnational organised crimes, including illicit drug trafficking, have taken a heavy toll on the region, he said.

He said extremist and terrorist groups have taken advantage of the adverse political and security situation and are consolidating their position, particularly in northern Mali.

The terror groups have weakened the state institutions, indulged in serious human rights violations and damaged many sites of cultural, historic and religious significance, Puri said adding that activities of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Boko Haram in northern Mali have turned the area into a regional hub of terrorist groups.

While several countries in the region are seriously threatened by terror activities, more than 400,000 have been displaced by the fighting in northern Mali.

"Clearly, time has come for the international community to seriously address the multiple crises in the Sahel and support the initiatives of regional and sub-regional organisations," Puri said adding that given the complexity of challenges facing the region, the response requires a holistic approach.

"The United Nations should play the leading role in the process. We also urge the international community to redouble its efforts to meet the challenges of food insecurity in northern Mali and provide adequate resources to the humanitarian agencies working in the region," he said.

Apart from the provision of resources, there should be better integration and coordination among the UN and other agencies on the ground to ensure effective implementation of the strategy, he said.

Puri offered India`s commitment to partner with the countries in the region, the UN, the African Union and other organisations in the implementation of an UN-led integrated strategy for the Sahel.