By Raby Ould Idoumou
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz may soon visit Algiers after Algerian Maghreb and African Affairs Minister Abdelkader Messahel extended an invitation from President Abdelaziz Bouteflika during a recent trip to Nouakchott.
After meeting with Mauritanian Foreign Minister Hamadi Ould Hamadi on Thursday (December 1st), Messahel told reporters that the diplomats focused on the security situation in the Sahel, adding that the meeting underlined “the need to strengthen consultation and co-operation to combat terrorism and organised crime”.
The conference was also attended by the Algerian ambassador and several Mauritanian presidential representatives.
“Algeria is truly trying to develop a partnership programme with the Sahel countries, especially Mauritania, in order to crack down on terrorists who turned the Sahara between Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, into a headquarters for their terrorist attacks,” according to terrorism analyst Hamadi Ould Dah.
Ould Dah told Magharebia that it was an important step “because – until recently – al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb used to benefit from Algeria insisting on spearheading the fight against terrorism over the rest of its neighbours, a position that adversely affected co-operation among Sahel countries”.
Relations between Mauritania and Algeria were strained after the Mauritanian army attacked an al-Qaeda encampment in the Wagadou Forest region of northern Mali last June, according to the analyst. Ould Dah said Algerian media inaccurately reported the Mauritanian army was defeated in the battle.
“Additionally, Algeria was reluctant to offer the Mauritanian army any intelligence information, or take part in the joint forces of the Sahel countries, leaving Mauritania alone in its confrontations with terrorists,” he said.
However, this latest step taken by Algeria marks a move toward more security co-operation among Sahel states. Political analyst Mokhtar Al-Salem said the visit was a “notable development” in terms of improving relations.
He added that the Mauritanian president has strong ties with Morocco, where Ould Abdel Aziz received his military training. “However, the fall of Kadhafi forced Algeria to shuffle the cards and search for new allies that may not include the Libyan interim council, after Algeria hosted Aisha Kadhafi,” al-Salem said.
“Algeria cannot afford to remain at odds with Morocco, Mauritania and Libya. Otherwise, it will be living in political isolation in the Arab Maghreb, which does not exactly serve its ends as a military power in the region,” the analyst noted.
Mohamed Ould Zein, a political analyst who works for Sahara Media, contended, “Algeria’s rapprochement attempt with Nouakchott is very important at a time in which there is word about the smuggling of al-Qaeda weapons from Libya and the urgent need to strengthen relations among Sahel countries and to stay alerted to their common enemy, i.e. terrorist groups.”
“Maghreb states should come closer so as to accelerate the conclusion of major security agreements that are sorely needed by the region and by each individual state, so as to reduce the risk of terrorism on states and nations,” Ould Zein added.
Journalist Naji Mahamadou said the improved relations pave the way for co-ordination in the fight against AQIM. He added that the threat from the terror group “has escalated in the Sahel region in recent years with the organisation receiving millions of dollars in the form of ransoms from a series of kidnapping operations”.
Mauritanian MP Mohamed Mustafa Ould Badr al-Din, of the Union of Forces for Progress (UFP), said he did not believe the convergence of Nouakchott and Algiers would be at the expense of Rabat.
“We are interested in developing Mauritanian relations with all its neighbours, especially Algeria, with which we share common interests, particularly with regard to economic co-operation and the war on terrorism. Enhancement of those relations is bound to have a positive security impact on Sahel states in general. But we are also keen on maintaining a balance in relations with the region,” Ould Badr al-Din told Magharebia.