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US and Russia clash over violent extremism in Africa

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UNITED NATIONS – The United States on Tuesday accused Kremlin-backed Russian military contractors of interfering in the internal affairs of African countries and “increasing the likelihood of violent extremism growing” in the Sahel region which faces increasing attacks and deteriorating security – an allegation denied by Russia.

US Deputy Ambassador Richard Mills lambasted the Wagner Group during a UN Security Council meeting on West Africa and the Sahel, accusing its paramilitary forces of failing to deal with the extremist threat , to deprive countries of their resources, to commit human rights violations and to endanger the safety and security of peacekeepers and UN personnel.

French political adviser Isis Jaraud-Darnault echoed Mills, saying “the model” used by Wagner’s mercenaries proved “completely ineffective in the fight against terrorism”. He cited the “infamous” and devastating impact of his work and human rights abuses, including the alleged murder of more than 30 civilians in Mali, and his plunder of natural resources.

British Deputy Ambassador to the UN James Kariuki spoke of deteriorating security, particularly in Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin, and fears of the spread of instability in West African coastal countries. “You cannot ignore the destabilizing role that the Wagner group plays in the region. They are part of the problem, not the solution,” he told the council.

Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Anna Evstigneeva, rejected attempts “to taint Russian aid to Mali”, where Moscow has a bilateral agreement to help the transitional government, “and in other African countries”.

“Some countries said once again today that Russia apparently is plundering and looting Africa’s resources and facilitating the growth of the terrorist threat,” she said, accusing these unnamed nations of doing the same. thing “in the world and in Africa”, in particular. in neighboring Libya which has destabilized the whole area.

“The accusations against Russia are simply astonishing, given common sense,” and undermine African leaders trying to solve their own problems and decide who they want to cooperate with, she said.

Evstigneeva never mentioned the Wagner group by name. The group is led by a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and its mercenaries are accused by Western countries and UN experts of numerous human rights violations throughout Africa, particularly in the Republic Central African Republic, Libya and Mali.

Giovanie Biha, deputy director of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel, told the council that “insecurity has again deteriorated in large parts of the region”, due to the activities armed groups, violent extremists and criminal networks. As a result, she said, more than 10,000 schools across the Sahel have closed, leaving millions of children without an education, nearly 7,000 health centers have closed.

Armed groups are fighting for supremacy and control of resources, she said, and the central Sahel faces “unprecedented levels of security and humanitarian challenges, socio-political instability, further compounded by the impact of the climate change, and food insecurity that has been exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine. She added that increasing attacks in countries along the Gulf of Guinea threaten transportation arteries to landlocked countries further north.

According to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ latest report released this week, more than 18.6 million people in the region are experiencing “severe food insecurity”, an increase of 5.6 million since the end of June 2022, Burkina Faso, the Niger and Nigeria being the hardest hit. And around 6.3 million people are displaced across the Sahel, an increase of 300,000 since June.

Russian Evstigneeva said Moscow shared concerns about the growing number of terrorist threats in the region, ongoing inter-ethnic and inter-community conflicts, organized crime, drug trafficking and the killing of large numbers of civilians by fighters during the second half of 2022.

She pointed to the withdrawal of French counter-terrorism forces and the European military task force Takuba under their command on June 30, saying it had not been agreed with Mali’s transitional government and had “a negative impact” on the short-term security situation. term.

“Nevertheless,” she said, “there is already progress” and Russia is providing Mali with “appropriate assistance.”

Mills, the deputy U.S. ambassador, said the United States is deeply concerned about the security, humanitarian and political crisis in the Sahel that is causing “a dramatic increase in the strength and influence of violent extremism “.

The problem requires “a democratic governance solution”, he said. “We are also gravely concerned about democratic backsliding in the region and urge the return of democratically elected, civilian-led governments.”

The latest wave of coups in West Africa began in Mali in 2020, followed by another in Guinea in 2021, then Burkina Faso in January 2022.

Omar Alieu Touray, chairman of the ECOWAS West African regional group commission, told the council he was pleased to report that transitions to critical elections in the three countries are “under way”, with the vote ahead of take place within the next two years.

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