Ministers visit Niger to strengthen ties against jihadists

Minister of Development Cooperation Caroline Gennez and minister of Defence Ludivine Dedonder are due to visit Niger in West Africa and meet their Nigerien counterparts on Friday.

During their two-day visit, the ministers will strengthen the country's ties with Belgium. "Niger is and will remain an important partner," said Gennez.

The country has been battling jihadists active in the Sahel region for years. The authorities are counting on the support of partners including Belgium. "We can't afford to back out when the going gets tough," said Gennez. "It is naive to think that the growing uncertainty in the country will not impact us in Europe and Belgium."

The terrorist group Islamic State which used to be "the problem of the Middle East and the United States", she said. "That has not prevented them from carrying out attacks in Europe. Some problems seem very remote until they are suddenly at the door."

Gennez also said that "we can continue to build schools and hospitals, but it will not be of much use if the children and people cannot go there in complete safety". "We can train and fund the army, but it cannot do its job without infrastructure or social services for the army and the families. A safe environment is needed. Otherwise, our solidarity is nothing more than an empty promise."

Dedonder placed particular emphasis on cooperation with Niger's troops. "Defence works according to local needs, trains local instructors and guides them in converting their knowledge in the field," she said. "This unique collaboration gives the local security forces and the population more confidence in the methods and results."

Belgium has been present in Niger for several years, with soldiers training part of the local armed forces.


Defence minister Ludivine Dedonder © BELGA PHOTO DIRK WAEM


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