French Interior Minister Manuel Valls gestures as he speaks during the questions to the government session at the National Assembly in Paris, 12 November 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls announced on Friday that Paris would create a "regional homeland security envoy" role in Dakar to boost the fight against terrorism in Africa's Sahel region.
The spotlight has been thrown on the growing threat of Islamist extremism across the vast hinterland stretching from Senegal in the west to Somalia in the east since France launched a military operation against Al-Qaeda-linked militants in Mali.
"We hope to put this fight against terrorism in the context of a Sahel-wide plan that could be directed from here in Dakar," Valls told reporters during a visit to the Senegalese capital.
"We are opening (the post of) French regional homeland security attache to strengthen the teams already on the ground here in Dakar, to improve efficiency, especially in the field of intelligence," he added.
Security in the north of neighbouring Mali remains a priority for all west African nations and for Chad, which sent in troops in January to join the French-led operation to oust armed Islamist groups who had occupied the country's desert north.
The rebels have threatened reprisals in France and in African countries participating in MINUSMA, the United Nations peacekeeping force in Mali.
Valls' Senegalese counterpart, Abdoulaye Daouda Diallo, stressed the need to strengthen the "exchange of information" between all countries in the region and France.
He said the movement of militants across Senegal's 800 kilometres (500 miles) of border with Mauritania and Mali was difficult to police.
Valls and Diallo signed a deal formalising the cooperation which already exists between France and its former colony on terrorism and also on the fight against drugs.
The drugs trade is seen as one of the most pressing political issues in often-volatile west Africa, where traffickers have been accused of infiltrating the government and military of Guinea-Bissau, while Al-Qaeda groups in Mali are suspected of using drug money to finance their operations.
"France and Senegal want to be at the forefront of the fight against this scourge and we are determined to put in the human and technical resources and finance to become more efficient," he said.