West African defense chiefs will meet in Guinea Bissau on Tuesday to discuss bolstering security in the region in general, and in Guinea Bissau in particular, according to a high ranking official. The group already has 700 security officials in the country.
Abdel-Fatau Musah, external relations director of the Economic Community of West African States, says during the three-day summit the defense chiefs will also discuss security cooperation between ECOWAS and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). Heads of state from the two regions recently agreed to combat transnational maritime piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
“They will be discussing broadly the situation in the region, and also certain specific measures related to initiatives like maritime security. [They will also] review progress of the ECOWAS military and security assistance to Guinea Bissau,” said Musah. “One of the central themes of the meeting is what the region is doing to stem piracy and other sea-borne transnational organized crime.”
Musah says members states including Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Niger have agreed to set up a pilot center to monitor and coordinate maritime surveillance in the Gulf of Guinea.
He says the defense chiefs will also discuss the security situation in Mali.
Observers say South American cartels are using some West African countries to ship their drugs to western countries.
ECOWAS and other international groups have expressed concern about the challenges the drug problem poses to the region.
Musah says the defense chiefs will look at ways to combating the illegal trade.
“Drug trafficking is a major security threat in the region, and we all know Guinea Bissau as the weak link in the efforts to control drug trafficking region from Latin America in transit to Europe and the USA,” said Musah.
Guinea Bissau was originally scheduled to hold elections next month, but had to postpone the vote until April following logistical challenges.
Musah says ECOWAS has $ 20 million earmarked improving security in Guinea Bissau as part of the process of returning the country to constitutional rule.
“It is important to review the ECOWAS presence in the country. The region has close to 700 military and formed police units [there] trying to secure the transition, and there are plans to increase the number on the eve of the election,” said Musah. “ECOWAS is also conducting wide ranging security sector reform including the rehabilitation of the run down barracks in the country.”
Musah says ECOWAS is committed to helping Guinea Bissau in its transition to constitutional rule.