A two-day meeting between 27 African and Arab countries kicked off in Egypt on Thursday aiming to explore military and counter-terrorism cooperation.
Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) members gathered in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, where the Egyptian military deployed in force to secure the conference.
"The situation in the Sahel-Saharan states is very worrying," said the Nigerien CEN-SAD Secretary General Ibrahim Sani Abani in his opening speech, citing weapons and narcotics trafficking, and militant groups such as Boko Haram.
"This phenomenon knows no boundaries and no state can protect only itself, it requires a coordinated and concerted response."
The meeting would discuss draft agreements on military cooperation and conflict resolution, drug and arms trafficking, Abani had said in a statement.
Several of the bloc’s members, including Egypt, are trapped in wars with militant groups who have killed thousands of people in attacks and taken control of some territories.
"Terrorism and extremism presents a strong threat that has spread across all continents," Egyptian Defence Minister Sedki Sobhi said in his address.
In Egypt alone, terrorist groups have killed hundreds of security force members, and bombed a plane carrying Russian tourists that had taken off from Sharm El Sheikh in October, killing 224 people.
This year’s meeting is the fifth CEN-SAD defence ministers' conference, since the bloc’s founding in 1998.
The Community of Sahel-Saharan States was founded in part to promote a free trade area among member states.