By Jemal Oumar
British Foreign Secretary William Hague visited Mauritania, Algeria and Morocco on Tuesday (October 18th), focusing on the regional security implications of the Libyan revolution and the threat of terrorism in the Sahel.
“The risk of the spread of Libyan weapons can be contained,” Hague told reporters after meeting with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. “For the moment the formation of an inclusive government is the most urgent. This will happen soon,” he added.
When Hague was in Algeria he vowed to “continue to support Algeria in its fight against al-Qaeda and to encourage a regional approach to this common threat”.
Before his departure from Nouakchott, the UK official told Mauritanian press that the “British government supports Mauritania in its economic programme and in combating terrorism because Mauritania is playing a leading role in the war on terror in the region, and different world countries support it in that war.”
As to the spread of Libyan weapons in the Sahel, Hague said that he discussed the issue with with National Transitional Council (NTC) chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil during his stopover in Tripoli.
“I call on the Arab countries to support the Libyan people in their struggle for freedom,” he said.
Hague’s Maghreb trip was part of “European countries’ fears about the spread of Libya’s weapons that threaten Western military and civil aircraft passing in the skies of Sahel region”, according to Iselmou Ould Moustafa, an expert on Salafist ideology. “In addition, Mauritania is considered the spearhead in the confrontation against terrorism; something that prompts Britain and France to further coordinate with it.”
“Britain alone has had its share of terrorist threats and dangers in Sahel region,” Ould Moustafa said. “Edwin Dyer, a British national, was killed in 2009 at the hands of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) when the British government refused to release Abu Qatata under the pretext that it doesn’t negotiate with terrorists.”
Terror analyst Rabbi Ould Idoumou told Magharebia that the Libya crisis has “aggravated security threats because of the return of groups of Touareg fighters, some of who seek armed clashes in order to secure separation from Malian government. This is in addition to the growth of drug trafficking gangs’ activities.”
Hague’s Mauritania visit was the first ever for a British foreign minister, expert Mohamed Ould al-Imam noted. “It indicates the threat of terrorism that has unified the efforts of all world countries to combat it,” he said.
The British official’s Nouakchott trip came on the heels of a visit by Said Djinnit, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa. Djinnit wrapped up his two-day trip on Sunday (October 16th), during which he held meetings President Ould Abdel Aziz and Mauritania’s foreign and interior ministers.
“I have encouraged the Mauritanian president and stressed the importance of regional co-ordination and consultation to confront the growing threats to security in the region,” the UN official said.
Prior to arriving in Nouakchott, Djinnit told reporters in Dakar that he was concerned about the return of Touareg fighters from Libya. “The return of those men who fought in Libya poses great dangers to the region’s security,” he added. He also said that the “assumed buyers” of the Libyan weapons have a strong presence in ungoverned areas, a reference to AQIM.
Meanwhile, journalist Mohamed Ould Zain pointed to the Sahel drought as a security threat to regional stability, saying that “drought opens the door for Sahel residents to try various approaches, including the sale of arms and drug trafficking”.