Magharebia (Washington DC)

28 October 2013

West Africa: Algerian Foreign Minister Tours Sahel

Nouakchott — Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra has been on a tour of the Sahel, including Mauritania, Mali and Niger, since last Thursday (October 24th).

The top Algerian diplomat met regional presidents as well as the head of the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) as he sought to enhance security co-operation and to co-ordinate between his country and other field countries to confront terrorist threats.

"The security and strategic interests between Mauritania and Algeria are among the factors calling for more co-operation and sharing of expertise," Lamamra told AMI after meeting with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. "Therefore, the meeting was a precious opportunity to get to know the Mauritanian president's views, opinions and analyses."

In Mali for his second stop, Lamamra confirmed that he and his Malian counterpart conducted an assessment of the prospects of security and development co-operation to confront the multiple challenges in the region.

"We have the opportunity to work together based on a shared vision so regional countries can chart their own future with the support of international community," he said. "Algeria's solidarity with Mali is above any question."

That promoted Malian President Ibrahim Keita to express appreciation for Algeria's role in resolving the crisis in his country.

"We're attaching great hopes on Algeria in establishing peace and stability in our country because Algeria's support for Mali is essential," President Keita said.

Meanwhile, Malian Foreign Minister Zahibi Ould Sidi Mohamed said following his talks with Lamamra, "We're greatly relying on Algerian brothers in restoring security and peace to our country and the entire region. We have identical views with Algeria about peace, security and development in this region."

Lamamra also discussed the role of MINUSMA with its' head, UN Special Representative Bert Koenders. Koenders on Saturday (October 26th) confirmed that co-operation between regional countries is necessary to make the peacekeeping mission a success.

"Solving the existing problems in Mali can only come from the countries of this region," he said. "We're witnessing a stage in which Mali is being reconstructed, and I think that Algeria can, thanks to its experience, help us a lot in the technical, logistical and political fields."

Observers described Lamamra's visit as an important step in enhancing security and strategic co-operation between Sahel countries.

"As a veteran diplomat, Lamamra can help finalise new ideas and visions to solve the security problem in the Sahel given his long experience," analyst Ali Ould Moussa said. "He is now in a position that enables him to play a more effective role as compared to his former role as an African Union official, and therefore, the Algerian president is depending on him in dealing with sensitive issues."

Others did not rule out that the recent security developments in North Africa had a major role in Algeria's engagement with its southern neighbours, especially as Lamamra would visit both Niger and Mali.

"This is a new move to enhance the military presence of these countries to prevent the return of terrorist groups to northern Mali after they have recently launched limited terrorist operations," according to analyst Abdallah Ould Sidi.

Ould Sidi said Algeria's attempt to avoid the past scenario and its desire not to see any future foreign intervention in the region was prompting it to take the initiative.

However, journalist Sidi Mohammed saw Lamamra's visits to neighbouring countries as a routine move in a volatile area threatened by terrorism and marred by security tensions in northern Mali and along Algeria's southern border.

"Mauritania's counter-terrorism experience and its success in containing the terrorist threat in the last two years made other field countries see it as a partner with experience they can benefit from and depend on its advice," the Mauritanian journalist added. "As to communication with the leaders of Mali and Niger, this is a necessity dictated by joint interests and shared threats."

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