31 October 2012

Algeria: U.S., Algeria Cooperating Against Security Threat From Mali

Photo: U.S. State Department
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton prepares to meet with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers.

Washington — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's visit to Algeria reaffirmed the cooperation between Algiers and Washington on counterterrorism measures, particularly in West Africa's troubled Sahel region and Algeria's neighbor Mali.

In remarks following her October 29 meeting with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers, Clinton said the two had discussed Mali's internal insecurity and "the terrorist and drug trafficking threat that is posed to the region and beyond."

Clinton said she appreciated Bouteflika's analysis and observations concerning the situation in Mali, and the two agreed to "continue with in-depth expert discussions, to work together bilaterally and with the region -- along with the United Nations, and the African Union, and [the Economic Community of West African States] -- to determine the most effective approaches that we should be taking."

Mali's government was toppled by a coup in March, and two-thirds of the country is currently controlled by Islamic extremists who have allowed the terrorist group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to operate inside the country.

A senior State Department official who asked not to be identified told reporters October 29 that counterterrorism cooperation and the situation in Mali had dominated the meeting, and that both Clinton and Bouteflika agreed that the United States and Algeria need to "work together against the problems that are being exported from Mali and to help Bamako and ECOWAS with the AU and the U.N. support as well [as] deal with the security threats inside of Mali."

They also agreed that the political process inside Mali needs to address the legitimate grievances of moderate Tuaregs, an ethnic Berber people who inhabit parts of Mali and other nations in the Sahara region, so that "they see their future as lying within a democratic, unitary Mali and to reduce the space for extremists to act," the official said.

Algeria and the United States are also working against extremist efforts to kidnap people and hold them for ransom, which has been "one of the most prevalent means of financing terror, and its links to organized crime, to drug cartels." The official said the Algerians have established a regular set of meetings with their neighbors in the Maghreb to look at "the nexus between terrorism and terror financing through drugs and through trafficking, and what we can do against them."

The official said Clinton also commended Algeria for its parliamentary elections in May, which saw more women gain seats in the legislature.

PRAISE FOR ALGERIA'S POLITICAL REFORMS

Speaking while en route to Algiers October 28, a senior State Department official who asked not to be identified said Algeria has been undertaking political reforms in the wake of the 2011 protests that toppled governments in neighboring Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

"They finally canceled the 19 years of the emergency order in 2011. They broadened women's engagement, women's participation in the political scene so that ... the requirement is for 30 percent of women to be elected. They reduced and eliminated a lot of the restrictions on the broadcast media," the official said.

The country faces the problem of youth unemployment, with the effective rate believed to be 20 percent to 25 percent, compared to Algeria's overall unemployment rate of 10 percent. The official said Algerian officials have increased the salaries of those working for the government, which is "by far" the country's largest employer.

The official said the Obama administration has focused on English language training for both children and postgraduate-level students. He noted that Algeria has one of the world's largest gas reserves, but that its overall economic revenues are unbalanced.

"About 60 percent of the budget revenues come from the oil and gas sector. So there's a lot that can be done in terms of opening up the economy for foreign direct investment and the kinds of things that will actually bring jobs for all of the kids that need jobs," the official said.

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