The preliminary meetings for the fifth Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) began on Monday in Sharm El-Sheikh.
The meetings, which are attended by 27 ministers of defence from the Africa Union representing the participant states, in addition to northern Mediterranean countries, such as Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Greece, and France, will continue until the end of this week.
The meeting aims to renew, recreate, and reform the CEN–SAD’s work in the wake of security threats and challenges in the region. This is the first meeting since the fourth Ministerial Conference in Tripoli, Libya in 2011.
The union aims to face the challenges in the region, with terrorism being among the most prominent issue, the Egyptian ambassador to Libya and permanent representative of Egypt to the African Union, Mohammed Abu Bakr, said.
In the second half of this year, there will be a summit in Morocco for the heads of CEN-SAD member states. The Egyptian representatives will propose the establishment of a council to fight terrorism. They will discuss illegal immigration, smuggling, and border protection issues, Abu Bakr said in a press statement.
The Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry held a meeting Tuesday with the ministers of foreign affairs from neighbouring countries and Libyan ministers to discuss ways to counter threats coming from the Libyan border, following Egypt’s move to confront the danger coming from its western border, Abu Bakr said.
Discussion on the establishment of a permanent council for peace and security, and the Council for Sustainable Development will be the most prominent items in the union’s agenda, according to Abu Bakr.
The proposals put forward, and the challenges of establishing an anti-terrorism council will be discussed in the leadership’s meeting later this year, the ambassador said.
It has come to light that geopolitical circumstances did not allow CEN-SAD to implement its goals as planned, Abu Bakr noted. It is necessary for CEN-SAD to decide on implementing the solutions itself rather than waiting for foreign countries’ solutions, he continued.
It has yet to be confirmed whether the Libyan foreign minister will participate in the meeting.
Secretary-General of CEN-SAD Chadian Ibrahim Sani Abani, said: “The meeting aims to develop mechanisms that will be relied on to fight terrorism by identifying specific measures to address the threat. Many countries on the continent are threatened by terrorists, and this requires opening the borders between states concerned with increasing surveillance and coordinating together to prevent security breaches that threaten any of the concerned countries.”
The presence of African Union ministers of defence reflects the importance of the upcoming stage, Abani said. He praised the role of Egypt in this regard, and noted that the presence of President Al-Sisi in the last African Union summit is considered the restoration of Egypt’s role in leading the continent.
The opening ceremony began with a speech by Abani in which he stressed the importance of the meeting, which comes in the wake of difficult circumstances and challenges facing the African continent, CEN-SAD states in particular.
Following further developments of organised crime and cross-border terrorism, which affects development and construction of all people on the continent, this meeting will focus studying legal and institutional texts, which will be presented at the next summit, Abani continued. The meeting will also focus on the establishment of a protocol for the security and permanent peace council of CEN-SAD states and drafting the rules of procedure for the council.
Abani continued, saying that the goal is to implement the amended protocol of resolution and prevention of conflicts management mechanisms, as well as the framework document for the strategic security and development of the community states, which aims to formulate a comprehensive project for promoting peace, security, and harmonious development between the community members.
“We’re studying the ways and means to reactivate the regional military and security cooperation, in order to counter the terrorist attacks in CEN-SAD states. We are studying the proposals put forward by members in order to agree on steps to defeat terrorist groups that have wreaked havoc on the continent,” Abu Bakr said.
The secretariat of the community suggested direct meetings for CEN-SAD members to exchange their points of view on key issues, such as border security, joint manoeuvres conduct, military exercises, the removal of landmines, and organisation of military sports courses.
Assistant Minister of Defence for External Relations Major General Mohamed El-Keshky said in his speech that the region comprising the CEN-SAD community is the meeting point of civilisations and people. However, he noted that it has recently become an arena of conflict and a source of threats as a result of different factors, such as terrorism, as well as economic, political and social factors.
The conference will address the security strategies and development of CEN-SAD, as well as the possibility of implementing a centre for CEN-SAD to confront terrorism, and to promote and develop military cooperation between the members.
The conference will discuss the extent of the activities, arrangements, and preparations between the union and the GCC countries.
A number of representatives from ministries of defence, ambassadors, and Egypt’s military attaches for CEN-SAD countries attended the opening session.