Japan to give $120m to stabilise Sahel region

Report
from Agence France-Presse
Published on 29 Jan 2013

01/29/2013 08:32 GMT -

by Harumi Ozawa

TOKYO, Jan 29, 2013 (AFP) - Tokyo said Tuesday it would give $120 million in new aid to help stabilise the Islamist-infested Sahel region, as resource-poor Japan looks to shore up North Africa after the death of 10 Japanese in the Algerian gas plant siege.

Japan is still in shock following the deadly hostage crisis, which prompted calls for the government to better protect workers in the troubled but energy-rich area where many Japanese companies operate.

The announcement of the new aid also comes as a multi-national force pushes back jihadists who had until recently controlled the northern part of Mali, the vast state next door to Algeria.

Parts of both Mali and Algeria lie within the Sahel belt, which runs across North Africa.

"The Japanese government plans to give an additional $120 million to help stabilise Mali and the Sahel region," Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said. "This is to help the region to strengthen governance and security, including aid for peacekeeping operations."

Militants took hundreds of people hostage when they overran the gas plant in the Saharan desert earlier this month. The ordeal ended four days later when Algerian commandos stormed the plant, with some reports talking of summary executions of hostages.

Of the at least 37 foreigners known to have died, Japan's toll of 10 was the highest of any country. All of the Japanese who died were employed by plant engineering firm JGC.

The hostage-takers said they had launched the raid in response to the military action against Islamists in Mali.

"We expect this aid to help strengthen the AFISMA mission and abate the poverty that could breed terrorism," Kishida said, referring to the African-led International Support Mission in Mali, which has UN Security Council backing.

Japan has already given $63 million in aid to the region over the past year, in part to counter a drought and because of a worsening security situation in Mali, a foreign ministry official said.

Analysts say the Japanese government has been slow to engage in the region, despite the presence of a significant number of trading firms and developers.

"Although it is a belated move, the aid shows the government is stepping up its crisis management diplomacy in the region, which of course covers resource diplomacy as well," said Takehiko Yamamoto, professor of international politics at Waseda University.

"The government of Shinzo Abe has said it would boost crisis management as part of its basic policies," he said. "I think this is more or less an emergency measure to increase Japan's engagement in the region."

The Japanese government will also take measures to strengthen intelligence-gathering and analysis of Islamists, Kishida said.

The foreign ministry will seek to boost anti-terrorism measures, support efforts to stabilise the Sahel, North African and Middle Eastern regions and promote communication with Islam and Arab nations, he said.

Kishida added that the Japanese government will earmark three billion yen ($33 million) specifically for anti-terrorism measures globally in next year's budget.

A military coup in Mali early last year plunged the vast state into chaos, with radical Islamists seizing swathes of the country.

A French-led force, now numbering 2,900, earlier this month began pushing back the jihadist fighters, forcing them out of cities.

The International Monetary Fund agreed on Monday to provide an $18.4 million emergency loan to Mali, with observers saying the move was likely to persuade other donors, who cut off aid following the 2012 coup, to release more funds.

"Senior Vice Foreign Minister (Masaji) Matsuyama, who is now in Addis Ababa, is planning to make the announcement to the international community at the AFISMA meeting to be held there (Tuesday)," said Kishida.

"The vice foreign minister will declare Japan's unshaken resolve to fight terrorism."

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