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Ignore Sahel at your own risk, envoy warns

June 27, 2013 at 12:24 PM

UNITED NATIONS, June 27 (UPI) -- The international community risks another crisis like the one in Mali if it loses focus on turmoil in parts of North Africa, a U.N. special envoy said.

Al-Qaida and foreign rebel fighters took control over northern Mali in the wake of a 2012 coup. French forces responded to a request from its former colony in January for help with tackling the insurgency.

Romano Prodi, former Italian prime minister and U.N. special envoy for the North African region known as the Sahel, called for a "four-by-four" approach for the region, emphasizing human rights, good governance, national security and development.

"I believe this four-by-four strategy should be the foundation of a collective response to the challenges in the region," he said Wednesday before the Security Council.

Prodi said the five countries at the heart of the Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert -- Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger -- need broad-based support from the international community.

Most of the Sahelian countries were the subject of recent security advisories issued by the U.S. State Department. A June 14 advisory for Niger warned its porous borders allow terrorists and armed bandits to enter the country easily.

Prodi said he was coordinating with international lenders to help encourage regional development.

Without enduring support, the region's security outlook is grim, he said.

"Do not forget the Sahel or you will have more Malis if you do," he said.

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