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UN calls on Sahel to fight terror

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CARA ANNA | December 12, 2013 02:41 PM EST | AP

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council on Thursday urged states in Africa's impoverished Sahel region to improve communication to better fight terrorist groups and the "transnational organized crime" that increasingly is linked with them.

International concerns remain high about the movement of terrorist groups, as well as drug traffickers, across the dry, landlocked region south of the Sahara, especially in Mali, where last year al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb set up its version of an Islamic state after seizing Timbuktu.

France intervened in January to help Mali retake its lost territory, but the northern city of Kidal remains one of the country's most insecure areas.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he remains "concerned about the security situation" there.

Ban briefed the council Thursday on his visit to the region last month with the president of the World Bank, which with the European Union pledged $8.25 billion to boost economic growth and fight poverty there.

The Sahel region has vast stretches of barely populated areas, yet millions of people there continue to struggle with the daily basics of finding enough food. The U.N. estimates that 10 million people are facing food insecurity this year alone, and unemployment across West Africa at large has been estimated at more than 10 percent.

The Security Council adopted a nonbinding presidential statement Thursday that also praised the work of the council's al-Qaida Sanctions Committee in reaching out to Sahel and North Africa states for future collaboration on responding to the threat of al-Qaida in the region.

Romano Prodi, the secretary-general's special envoy to the region, also flagged Libya's precarious security situation since the overthrow of late dictator Moammar Gadhafi in early 2011, and its effect on the neighboring Sahel.

Prodi called Libya "especially critical" and urged regional security cooperation to include it and other non-Sahel countries such as Algeria, Morocco and Senegal.

An advance copy of Ban's report on West Africa at large, seen Thursday, warns of coming developments in the region's politics and security that include presidential elections in at least eight countries between 2014 and 2016 and "a significant drawdown of some United Nations peace missions in the region."