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ECOWAS approves $3 million aid to Sahel victims: official


ABUJA (AFP) - The mediation and security council of the West African regional group ECOWAS Thursday approved humanitarian aid of three million dollars for victims of the food crisis and rebel attacks in the Sahel region.

The council, at the end of its pre-ECOWAS summit meeting in Abuja, urged the group's Commission to take all necessary steps towards finding solutions to the problems in the Sahel, a statement of the Economic Community of West African States said.

West African heads of state and government began a two-day summit on Thursday afternoon.

Speaking at the opening,, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan warned that a security crisis in the Sahel has led to a rise in the number of weapons flowing into the drought-hit region.

The north African desert area has faced intensified threats from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) following the conflict in Libya, which caused a surge in arms profileration, the UN Security Council has said.

Some have warned that instability in the Sahel is also linked to the rise in attacks in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram Islamists who have killed more than 200 people already this year.

"We are... witnessing a lot of crisis in some parts of the sub region.... Because of the crisis we have in the Sahel region, we see (a) flow of small arms and light weapons," Jonathan said.

The Red Cross has said that at least 30,000 people are displaced in Mali and living in extremely "precarious conditions," while the number of people who have fled the country is believed to be more than 20,000.

Amid this insecurity, the Sahel also needs "urgent" assistance to mitigate against the potential onset of famine following late and erratic rains that have ruined crops across a wide swathe of territory, United Nations and European Union aid chiefs said this week.

The council also mandated that the ECOWAS Commission issue a strong statement supporting all efforts to maintain the territorial integrity of Mali and Niger in light of the current insurgency attacks in the Sahel-Sahara region.

It also approved the disbursement of funds to assist member states to render support to the returnees arising from the Libyan crisis, the statement said.

The summit is expected to chose on Friday a new president of the ECOWAS Commission and chairman of the 15-nation group.

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