Dialogue Possible With Certain Sahel Jihadists: UN Chief

Guterres said that "there are still those whose terrorist radicalism is such that there will be nothing to be done with them," citing IS.

Dialogue may be possible with certain jihadist groups active in Africa’s Sahel region, but not “radical” ones such as the Islamic State (IS) group, UN chief Antonio Guterres said Monday.

“There will be groups with which we can talk, and which will have an interest in engaging in this dialogue to become political actors in the future,” Guterres said in an interview with French daily Le Monde.

“But there are still those whose terrorist radicalism is such that there will be nothing to be done with them,” he added, citing IS.

Much of the vast Sahel region is prey to insecurity and jihadist violence, which erupted after a rebellion in northern Mali in 2012.

The conflict has since spread to the center of the country, as well as neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, claiming thousands of lives.

Last week, African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Smail Chergui urged dialogue with extremists in the conflict-ridden region.

He pointed to Afghanistan, where the United States and the Taliban agreed a truce in late February, as a possible template.

Chergui’s appeal came after Mali’s government this month swapped some 200 prisoners for four hostages held by an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group.

The last French citizen held hostage in the world, Sophie Petronin, was released alongside Mali opposition figure Soumaila Cisse, along with two Italians.

‘Stronger International Response Needed’

“In Afghanistan, there is a terrorist group with which dialogue is impossible, it is the Islamic State,” said Guterres. “Its vision is so radical that there is no prospect of discussion.”

He underlined there was “insufficient” security deployment in the Sahel, and called for “more international solidarity” with the region.

A high-level donor conference will be held Tuesday for the Sahel region, where the years-long fighting, climate change, and COVID-19 have plunged millions of people into hunger.

The UN has said it hopes the ministerial-level videoconference will mobilize $2.4 billion.

Guterres said the UN’s MINUSMA force in Mali had too limited a mandate to allow “an effective fight against the terrorist threat.”

Similarly, France’s Barkhane force of some 5,000 soldiers was “limited given the extent of the territory to be controlled,” he said.

As for the combined G5 Sahel regional force, it “lacks the means and capacity to respond to this gigantic security challenge,” said the UN secretary-general. “The international response must be stronger,” he told the newspaper.

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