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On Mali visit, U.N. chief ask donors to back G5 Sahel force

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BAMAKO (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to donors on Tuesday to provide more predictable support to the G5 Sahel force fighting to contain West African jihadists.

He spoke while on a visit to Mali, the country worst affected by Islamist militants.

A conference in February of about 50 countries including the United States, Japan and Norway pledged 414 million euros (360.42 million pounds) for the G5 Sahel force, made up of troops from Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

But the force has been planned for years, yet has only got off the ground in the past few months as little of the pledge donations appear to have reached the force to keep it afloat.

“The international community must understand the need to provide the G5 Sahel countries with predictable support,” Guterres said, after meeting Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga and leaving flowers to commemorate the roughly 170 U.N. peacekeepers killed in Mali since 2013 – the most endangered U.N. mission anywhere in the world.

“We (United Nations) are working to ensure effective international solidarity by the strength of G5 Sahel,” he added.

The G5 Sahel operation, whose command centre is in central Mali, is projected to swell to 5,000 personnel and will also carry out humanitarian and development work.

Rising violence across Mali, especially in its desert north, has cast doubt over the feasibility of elections scheduled for July 29, in which President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita announced on Monday that he would run.

Islamist militants took over northern Mali in 2012 before French forces pushed them back in 2013.

President Emmanuel Macron of France – Mali and the region’s former colonial power with 4,000 troops stationed across the Sahel – has pledged to continue France’s anti-jihadist offensive alongside the G5.

(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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