Senegal worried about risk of militants entering from Mali: president

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 08, 2013 6:29 PM
Senegal worried about risk of militants entering from Mali: president

By Scott Malone

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Senegal is stepping up monitoring of its borders and mounting a public education campaign in an effort to ensure that Islamist militants from neighboring Mali do not disrupt life in the West African nation, Senegalese President Macky Sall said on Friday.

Senegal, one of Africa's most peaceful countries, is keen to remain insulated from violence in northern Mali, where a French military offensive has reclaimed most of the territory seized by militants nearly a year ago.

"There is a risk of sleeper cells as everywhere else. If you will, the map of terrorist presence is a global map," Sall, who has been in power almost a year, said in an interview at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"Senegal being a neighboring country to Mali, it of course pays very close attention to these developments," said Sall, who noted that Dakar was focused on preventing militants from crossing into Senegal and dissuading Senegalese residents from working with any who did.

Senegal has contributed several hundred troops to an African force deployed to Mali, and Islamist rebels have threatened to strike back at any country that supports that mission.

France launched a ground and air operation on January 11 to break the rebels' hold on the northern two-thirds of Mali, saying the militants posed a risk to the security of West Africa and Europe.

Sall, who spoke at times through an interpreter, called on international leaders to keep up the pressure on the rebels.

"We cannot allow terrorism groups to occupy a sovereign country and use it as a safe haven for their criminal activities," Sall, 51, said in a speech to Harvard students after the interview. "We should not give up the fight until the job is done."

French forces in Mali have discovered tons of weapons stockpiled by al Qaeda-linked fighters who planned to use the country's north as a base for international attacks, France's defense minister said on Friday.

(Reporting By Scott Malone; Editing by Paul Simao)