By Walid Ramzi
In recent days, Algeria received representatives of Touareg rebel movements as well as foreign officials in an effort to forge a diplomatic solution to the Mali crisis.
A delegation from Ansar al-Din, which controls northern Mali together with secular Touareg rebels and Islamist groups, was one of the first to visit Algeria. Then Alistair Burt, the British Under Secretary of State for the Middle East and North Africa, paid a three-day visit to Algiers, followed by Amara Essy, a special envoy of the Ivorian president.
Algerian Maghreb Affairs Minister Abdelkader Messahel confirmed the visit by Ansar al-Din during a press conference held Sunday (June 24th) with the British official.
“Algeria has contacts with all parties that want us to contribute to resolving the crisis in northern Mali,” Messahel said. “At this level, we are getting support from our brothers in Mali and our partners, and we are in contact with the Economic Community of West African States, Europe and the United States. And in a matter of few weeks, we will be receiving several ministers from the countries in the region.”
Messahel said Algeria seeks to find a political solution for the situation in northern Mali and contribute to a speedy resolution that would open dialogue between the Bamako government and Touareg rebels representing the breakaway state of Azawad.
At the same time he said Algeria seeks a solution that would enable Mali to eventually manage the conflict and work on fighting terrorism and crime in the region, along with one that would allow Mali to overcome the economic and humanitarian crisis.
“We support a negotiated solution between the central government and the north. For authority can be shared, but Mali cannot be divided,” Messahel said.
The Algerian minister confirmed his country’s rejection of any proposal to divide Malian soil. “I said previously that our approach includes six priorities, the first relating to preserving the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Mali.”
“For us, as Algerians and as for the rest of the international community, the territorial integrity [of Mali] is not negotiable,” he insisted. He presented Algeria’s approach to addressing the Malian crisis, including strengthening the authority of the government to be a strong communicator in the African Union and the organisations that speak for the residents of the north, and to provide humanitarian and economic assistance to cope with these difficult circumstances arising from the period after the military coup.
Conversely, Messahel refused to tackle the case of the seven Algerian diplomats held hostage in Mali since April 5th, including the Algerian consul based in Gao, saying only that the diplomats were “in good health”.
“This issue is very sensitive and managing it requires confidentiality,” Messahel said, adding that “our subjects are okay, this is all I can say.”
In turn, the British official expressed support for Algeria’s position on the situation in Mali, saying that the United Kingdom preferred “negotiations to resolve the Malian crisis and believes that Algeria’s position and role in accompanying the difficult negotiations is a good thing”.
“Military intervention is not a measure we favour,” Burt said, a reference to a proposal made by the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States for a stabilisation force.
During his visit, Burt covered several economic and political issues with Algerian officials. He also discussed the volatile security situation in northern Mali with Algerian Defence Minister Abdelmalek Guenaizia, as well as control by armed Islamist groups over northern areas on the border with Algeria.
On Monday, Algeria also received Amara Essy, a special envoy of Ivorian President President Alassane Ouattara.
After his welcome by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the Côte d’Ivoire envoy said: “What happened in Mali concerns the countries of West Africa as well as the countries of North [Africa], and we are convinced that without Algeria there will be no solution to this crisis.”
“Algeria is better informed than us about this problem,” Essy added. “Previously there were the Algiers Agreements signed between the Malians, and for this reason we listened with great interest to the analysis offered by President Bouteflika on this subject, and we will prepare a report to the president and a framework containing all those elements in order to find a solution to this crisis.”
The Ivorian envoy also contended that any solution “should take into account two basic principles, which are to not compromise – the Malian borders and condemnation of any change contrary to the constitution”.