US and France say intervention in Mali needs Algerian backing as Islamists tighten grip in north African country.
Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, has urged Algeria to support an Africa-led military intervention in northern Mali.
Clinton’s visit to Algiers on Monday came amid mounting international pressure on Algeria over the crisis in Mali, where a March military coup was followed by a revolt that has seen Tuareg fighters, some linked to al-Qaeda, seize control of the northern two-thirds of the country.
A senior US official said after the talks, that Clinton argued strongly that counterterrorism efforts in Mali could not wait for a political resolution to Mali’s problems.
|Algeria has expressed concern about the expanding influence of the group Ansar Dine in Mali [Reuters]|
“The secretary underscored … that it is very clear that a political process and our counter-terrorism efforts in Mali need to work in parallel,” the official said.
“We have an awful lot at stake here, and an awful lot of common interests, and there’s a strong recognition that Algeria has to be a central part of the solution.”
The US official’s remarks came before Clinton’s talks with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Africa’s biggest country, and a top oil and gas exporter, Algeria shares a 2,000km border with Mali and sees itself as the major regional power, wary of any outside interference.
It fears military action in Mali could push al-Qaeda back into southern Algeria as well as triggering a refugee and political crisis, especially among displaced Malian Tuaregs heading north to join tribes in Algeria.
Algeria repeatedly has advocated a diplomatic solution to the Mali crisis, and ruled out intervention itself.
Although Algiers would not be able to veto an intervention operation by other countries, it would be diplomatically risky for African states backed by Western powers to intervene in Mali without its consent, especially as the conflict could drag on for many months.
Clinton’s visit to Algiers came after a high-level meeting in the Malian capital, Bamako, on October 19 that brought regional and international players to the negotiating table, and after which French and Algerian sources said Algeria had “tacitly” agreed to intervention.
France, the region’s former colonial power, drafted a UN Security Council resolution urging Mali to engage in dialogue with Tuareg Muslim rebels Ansar Dine if they cut links with radical groups, a move that satisfied Algeria’s calls for dialogue.