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Macron pledges French help conflict-riven Africa

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President Emmanuel Macron, left, told DRC counterpart Felix Tshisekedi that France would extend military support to fight armed groups

President Emmanuel Macron, left, told DRC counterpart Felix Tshisekedi that France would extend military support to fight armed groups (AFP Photo/ludovic MARIN)

Paris (AFP) - French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday pledged French support to African leaders whose countries are riven by conflict, saying Paris' commitment would not waver.

Macron told DR Congo counterpart Felix Tshisekedi France would support its fight against armed groups in the vast central African country's volatile east.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been wracked by conflict near its eastern border, after numerous militias evolved from the two Congo wars (1996-1997 and 1998-2003).

"France is fully engaged at the side of DRC to fight armed groups which are destabilising the country", some of which are linked to the Islamic State group, Macron told Tshisekedi during a meeting in Paris at which he also pledged French support for other African states battling conflict.

Macron said French help would take on a "military dimension" and involve "intelligence" but did not give details.

An Islamist-rooted Ugandan armed group, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), has targeted the region of Beni, killing hundreds of civilians over the last five years.

The Islamic State has claimed some of the attacks but there is no clear proof of any link between the two groups.

Macron called on regional countries to "engage themselves with President Tshisekedi in this very important fight".

Tshisekedi responded that he wanted to see "France being much more present in Africa.

"When a friend is in difficulty, one helps," he added.

- G5 reboot -

Macron meanwhile pledged to take decisions "in the coming weeks" on how France can help tackle jihadist violence in the Sahel.

The French leader said progress had been made "on the security situation" and decisions would be announced on revamping the G5 regional cooperation force in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Following talks with his counterparts from Chad, Niger and Mali -- Idriss Deby, Mahamadou Issoufou and Ibrahim Boubacar Keita -- Macron said France was "confirming and consolidating its commitment" to its military role in Operation Barkhane, launched in 2014 and to which Paris has contributed 4,500 troops.

The G5 framework, created to combat jihadist terrorism in the fragile region that lies between the Sahara and the Atlantic, comprises troops from Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso who are backed by former colonial power France.

But, hamstrung by insufficient funds, training and equipment, the force has only now reached a complement of 4,000 troops, causing analysts to question its capacity to fulfil its role.

Macron said more military resources would be forthcoming by early next year.

Among topics Macron discussed with his Sahel counterparts was the northeastern Mali flashpoint of Kidal, a rebel-held town mainly ruled by Tuareg separatists since a 2012 rebellion which he said needed to be brought visibly under state control.

The state's weak presence in the area has allowed jihadist groups, including a local branch of the Islamic State group, to establish a foothold in a vast, arid domain that has become a hub for people and weapons smuggling.