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Africans React Positively to US Help in Gulf of Guinea


African security and maritime officials are reacting positively to increased U.S. help in stabilizing the Gulf of Guinea. A three-day U.S. sponsored workshop on addressing challenges of Africa's volatile Atlantic coast is being held in Benin.

The U.S. Defense and State Departments are sponsoring the conference in Benin's capital Cotonou.

Wednesday, government ministers from nearly a dozen Gulf of Guinea countries will be taking part, alongside State Department Africa experts and top officials from U.S. naval forces based in Europe.

One of the participants during the first two days was Fulgor Ngobo, a top official from the Republic of Congo's defense department.

He told VOA Africans do not have the resources, the materials or the technological know-how to guarantee their own maritime security.

Ngobo says the problems are many, from the trafficking and migration of people, to weapons dealing, illegal fishing and transport of hazardous waste. He says all help is needed to enhance security.

A top official from the host country's fishing ministry, Benin's Victor Akpatchossou, says the partnership can also help economically.

He says better security will lead to increased fishing, which he says is an important part of local economies.

Prior to the conference, some African commentators expressed concern in local newspapers that the U.S. government may be organizing the conference because of concerns of a growing regional terrorist threat.

They also wrote the increased security attention may be tied to a future boost in oil production in the Gulf of Guinea, which has often caused instability, most notably in Nigeria's Niger Delta.

Benin commentator Gerard Guedegbe says U.S. officials have told their local audience this is not the case. He says they have focused on immediate African needs, of which he says there are plenty.

"We have encountered too many safety problems at sea. There are many smugglers. There are also problems of illegal fishing," said Guedegbe. "I think that this conference can help elaborate a road map and also it will contribute to the regional total security among the member states of the Guinea Gulf."

The workshop is taking place just as the U.S. Defense Department says it is working on a plan for possibly creating an Africa Command in the U.S. military structure.

A Pentagon spokesman says the aim would be to respond to humanitarian problems, and promote stability as well as help fight terrorism.