NOUAKCHOTT The leaders of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso agreed on Sunday to create a regional organization to strengthen cooperation on development and security in the Sahel region.
Mauritania will host the headquarters of the new grouping, dubbed the G5 Sahel, and its President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz will initially take the chair, according to a statement issued after a meeting in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott.
The Sahel is an arid belt of land south of the Sahara desert which runs across Africa from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east.
"There is no lasting development without security nor enduring security without effective development," Abdel Aziz said at the meeting. "We have agreed to unite our efforts to tackle this double challenge of security and lasting development in the Sahel."
The closing communique said ministers from the five nations would work together to identify priority investment projects and seek sources of international financing, focusing on areas such as infrastructure, food security, agriculture and pastoralism.
In recent years, the western Sahel region has faced a rising threat from armed Islamist groups. Al Qaeda-linked groups seized control of the northern two thirds of Mali in 2012 before they were defeated by a French-led military campaign last year.
(Reporting by Laurent Prieur; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Alistair Lyon)