Algiers — Algeria is calling on border residents to help security forces in the fight against terrorism.
Last month's hostage crisis at the In Amenas gas plant in southern Algeria led authorities to work on a new approach toward fighting regionally active terrorist groups.
The Algerian government now is trying to enlist the support of people living in border towns and communities that might be vulnerable to terrorist activity.
During a Thursday (February 14th) visit to Illizi, a town near the Libyan border, Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia invited the public to become more involved in the Algerian army's war on terrorism.
"People living here have a role to play in stabilising border security," the minister said. The people living in the southern wilayas responded favourably to his appeal.
"If the state had worked with us, the terrorist group who held the gas complex at Tiguentourine hostage would never have been able to get in among us," said former MP Ahmed Zegri. "We're experts on the geography of this region. We know everyone. It would be easier for us to detect suspicious foreigners."
Abbas Bouaâmama, a key figure in the region and senator for the wilaya of Illizi, explained: "Even if we were to mobilise the entire Algerian army in Illizi, it would still be difficult to control the borders" with Libya.
Proof of that came less than a month after the Tiguentourine attack, when "a 4x4 was stolen in the region by an armed group. We do not know where the thief went", he said.
"New mechanisms need to be introduced in the region, better suited to the situation on the ground," Bouaâmama said. "The army's presence is essential, but the real battle is one of information."
To win that battle, "the involvement of the people living in Illizi is essential," he told Magharebia. "No terrorist will dare set foot in Illizi if he sees that the population is involved in this war on terror."
Bouaâmama suggested that Meharists, a system of patrols used during the colonial period, be revived: "You could replace the camels with 4x4 vehicles and recruit volunteers who know the region, including guides, to patrol the borders in brigades."
The senator highlighted the need for co-operation from people living in the Libyan towns of Ghadamès and Ghat, who "stand fully ready" to help Algerian authorities secure the border and fight terrorism.
Under the government's new approach, the anti-terrorism fight also involves a government strategy to develop border areas.
To that end, a number of socioeconomic development projects already are under way in the southern wilayas, including Illizi. These projects should be completed by the end of the third five-year term (2010-2014), according to the interior minister.
The government has also committed to developing parts of the country's south.
Tourism in the south is experiencing a crisis due to the unstable situation in the Sahel region, Tourism Minister Mohamed Benmeradi stated on February 19th.
However, the minister is still optimistic, considering that the south "is still the most attractive [destination] in the country".
According to the minister, "the security aspect is not putting people off: a number of groups of foreign tourists (50 to 100 people) will visit the south of the country with travel agencies next April".