18 November 2012

West Africa: Algeria Ready to Close Mali Border

Algiers — As the international community prepares for intervention in Mali, Algeria pushes for a political solution.

Algeria is prepared to seal off its southern border in the event of international military action against radical Islamists occupying northern Mali, according to a West African official.

Algerian authorities "ensured that they will close their borders", Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission chief Kadré Désiré Ouedraogo said last Tuesday.

"Algeria will anticipate all possible developments in the Sahel region and will therefore take, in a sovereign manner, the appropriate steps to protect its interests and defend its borders to the fullest extent possible," Algerian foreign ministry spokesman Amar Belani stated on November 13th.

The day after ECOWAS adopted a plan to send 3,300 troops to Mali, Algeria once again expressed its preference for a political solution.

"It would be a tragic mistake to plan and execute a military intervention mission which would be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as an expedition for the purpose of attacking the Touareg," Belani told Tout sur l'Algérie.

"The Algerian Touaregs are against terrorism. We certainly have not said that terrorism should not be fought. But, given the situation and the nature of the region, we favour the political option," Touareg leader and MP Mahmoud Guemama told Magharebia.

Guemama said war would have serious consequences for security in the region.

"These terrorist groups will infiltrate areas inhabited by civilians. They will seek refuge among citizens. That will make it impossible to bombard those areas. What makes things more difficult is the fact that we won't have a map which will show us exactly which areas they are in," he said.

As for the inhabitants of northern Mali, Guemama said that they had been "stripped of their most basic rights by the Malian authorities" and left "marginalised and impoverished".

He called on the Malian authorities to enter into a dialogue with their people in order to avoid war and allow those in the north to have their rights restored.

Abdel Ali Rezagui, a journalism professor, pointed out that the Algerian Constitution forbids the army to be involved in conflicts abroad.

Fatah Rebai, the president of the Islamist Ennahda movement, agreed with the government's stance.

"History has shown us that only political solutions can defuse this kind of crisis," he said.

Intervention in Mali would push terrorist groups to towards the Algerian desert, according to Belgacem Belabbes, the president of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee. Such a withdrawal is more dangerous to Algeria's security now that these groups have weapons, he told Magharebia.

Though it is likely that Algeria will not intervene, it could still play a helpful role by passing on intelligence and allowing aircraft to fly over its territory, said diplomat and former minister Abdelaziz Rahabi.

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