Nouakchott — Mauritania's head of state is warning against war in Mali, saying it could play into the hands of terrorists.
Mauritania will not send troops to Mali but remains committed to combating terrorism, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said last week.
"Mauritania will not participate in any war, even if there are politicians here who echo the view of the terrorists by saying that we are engaged in a war by proxy," the president said at a Nouakchott press conference last Thursday (November 29th).
"Mauritania has already had to intervene outside its borders in the past to protect itself from terrorists who attacked it and killed its citizens," he added.
With regard to terrorism in northern Mali, the Mauritanian president said: "The situation has changed completely now. The armed organisations used to be made up of few fighters and had few vehicles and unsophisticated weapons. But now, these terrorist organisations occupy towns and recruit fighters very easily. They possess all kinds of vehicles and weapons."
"The war could free the towns but the very vast territory will stay in the hands of terrorists who today have a lot of money, weapons and logistical means," AFP quoted Ould Abdel Aziz as saying.
"For all these reasons, any military intervention in Mali will have serious consequences, not only for Mali but also for the entire region," he said.
But the Mauritanian president also warned that his country would defend itself, noting the Malian town of Lere, less than 100km from the border, was occupied by Ansar al-Din.
"We will spare no effort in defending our territorial integrity and the safety of our citizens and their property, even if that takes us outside our borders," he said.
Houseyn Ould Medou, an analyst and president of the Union of Mauritanian Journalists, said that "the president's statements about Mali were in line with the position he adopted previously."
In the president's view, a war "could unite all forces in northern Mali, and even all communities, against those whom they may regard as invaders".
"The president said that no deals will be struck with terrorists and that Mauritania's territorial integrity will be preserved at all costs," University of Nouakchott professor Dr Mohamed Ishaq said of the recent press conference.
While Ould Abdel Aziz focused on security issues, he also touched on economic concerns during his press conference.
"He announced a 30% salary raise for low-income employees, and a 10% salary raise for medium-income and high income employees," noted Mohamed Abdallah Ould al-Nahah, head of Mauritania's workers confederation.
"Most Mauritanians saw this move as an attempt to improve the people's living conditions, although some labour unions blamed the president for not involving them in the decision," he added.
During the press conference, the Mauritanian president also tried to dispel ambiguity and doubts about his own injury. He reiterated that the shooting was only an accident and said there was no need for rumours. He also said that he was fully capable of running the country.
In response to criticism from the Co-ordination of Democratic Opposition, Ould Abdel Aziz said that the door to dialogue was always open provided that tangible proposals were presented.
Meanwhile, Ould Abdel Aziz repeated that he would not step down under any circumstances.
"The ballot boxes alone will make me leave," the president said.