19 December 2013

North Africa: Maghreb Integration Necessary for Sahel-Sahara Security

Casablanca — Given the security challenges facing the Sahel, closer co-operation between the countries bordering the perilous region is becoming a priority.

In the final statement that came out of the 11th Morocco-EU Association Council, held December 16th-17th in Brussels, the European Union stressed the importance of close collaboration between Maghreb countries for security in the Sahel-Sahara region.

"This effort began in 2011, a year when all EU member states were unanimous about the importance of regional co-operation and Maghreb integration to counter the terrorist threat posed by AQIM," Abderrahmane Moubtakir, a journalist who specialises in Morocco-EU relations, told Magharebia.

In a press statement given on the side-lines of EU talks, Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar reiterated that his country supported all UN and EU strategies aimed at achieving stability in the Sahel, "including through a triangular approach involving the EU, Morocco and the countries of the Sahel".

He also reiterated Morocco's concerns about the worsening security situation in the area, which he said necessitated closer regional co-operation involving all countries in the region.

Brussels has repeatedly expressed its commitment to working out, together with its partners in the Maghreb, methods of co-operation to help the Sahel-Sahara region, which would involve the EU and the countries in the Maghreb and Sahel.

Mohamed Asserghini, a professor of international law in Casablanca, explained that the current context characterised by a "non-Maghreb" was the weak link in the chain when it came to combating AQIM and its terrorist plans effectively.

"Today, it is clear that stepping up the dialogue between the countries of the Maghreb is vital, but it is still essential to work towards reconciliation between Morocco and Algeria, which are two large countries of strategic importance to the security and economic development of the region," he pointed out.

The EU said it was ready to lend its full support to this reconciliation and wanted "Morocco and Algeria to be able to contribute to the strengthening of regional co-operation".

During a trip to Marrakech in November, the first national secretary of the Socialist Forces Front (FFS-Algeria), Ahmed Betatache, said that Maghreb integration would make it possible to "reduce the risks of destabilisation in this region".

The more Maghreb countries co-operate, the more they can contribute to the region's development, Betatache added.

"The two countries must overcome their differences, because the non-integration of the region favours cross-border criminal activities, smuggling and drug trafficking and allows AQIM to conduct its terrorist manoeuvres comfortably," Mounir Belmoula from the youth wing of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) said.

Moussa El Mouritani, an expert on Islamist movements, said that the EU had an important role to play in advancing the integration of the Maghreb.

At the end of this eleventh session, the EU said it was still willing to encourage close co-operation between the countries in the region in order to forge a common approach to security across the Sahel-Sahara area.

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