February 20, 2016 / 5:33 PM / 2 years ago

French PM pledges more military support for Sahel to fight insurgents

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Saturday pledged greater military assistance to the former French colony of Burkina Faso and other countries in the Sahel region in the face of a growing Islamist insurgency.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls shakes hands with head of rapid intervention unit Commander Evrard Somda in front of Cappuccino cafe, the site of an Al Qaeda attack that killed 30 in January in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, February 20, 2016. REUTERS/Nabila El Hadad

French troops stepped in to help Burkina Faso during an attack by militants from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb on a hotel in its capital, Ouagadougou, last month that killed 30 people.

The West African country is only just emerging from a rocky one-year transition to democratic rule that was marked by a short-lived military coup in September. Its long-time president and French ally, Blaise Compaore, was ousted by protesters in late 2014 as he sought to extend his rule.

“We must strengthen our cooperation on intelligence and the training of security and other armed forces,” Valls told reporters in Ouagadougou after a meeting with President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, who took office in December after winning the presidential election in November.

Valls said assistance would come in the form of help for a two-year-old development and security body known as the G5 Sahel comprising Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso, as well as support for the United Nations peace keeping force in Mali.

The French prime minister was in Burkina Faso as part of a three-day tour with Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian that incorporated a visit to Mali, which experienced a similar hotel attack in November.

France is the largest Western power involved in fighting insurgents in the Sahel with around 3,500 troops based in the arid region that stretches across northern Africa from Senegal in the west to Sudan in the east.

Its forces drove Islamist militants out of urban centers in northern Mali in 2013, but did not eradicate their networks.

Reporting by Mathieu Bonkoungou; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Nerys Avery

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