Senegal’s President Macky Sall said Tuesday that his native country and neighboring West African states must “prepare to do battle” to stop jihadist expansion beyond the Sahel.
In an interview broadcast that day by French radio RFI, the president also urged a more combative role for United Nations peacekeepers in Mali and ruled out dialogue with jihadists.
Sall’s comments come amid growing fears that the violence of the central Sahel will spill over into African coastal states.
Jihadist insurgents first began to plague Mali’s north in 2012, but have since spread to the center of the country, as well as Burkina Faso and Niger.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed in the conflict and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.
Senegal, which shares a border with Mali, has so far been spared jihadist attacks.
However Senegalese gendarmes this month foiled a jihadist cell in the east of the country, heightening fears of the growing reach of Islamists.
The head of France’s external intelligence agency, Bernard Emie, also warned this month that al-Qaeda-aligned jihadists are seeking to expand into Ivory Coast and Benin.
Sall told French radio that he shared fears of a violent spillover, explaining that the jihadists’ “objective is to reach the Atlantic Ocean.”
“Whether it’s Senegal or other coastal countries that are the last defense, we have to prepare to do battle,” he said.
The president added that he was “against talking with terrorists” — a position that puts him at odds with Mali’s interim government, which has said it will pursue talks.
In common with several other African leaders, however, Sall said UN peacekeepers in Mali should be allowed to use military force.
“You keep the peace when there is a peace to keep,” he said. “When you face jihadists, terrorists, there is no peace to keep, you have to fight them.”