Nouakchott protests Mali release of al-Qaeda convicts
By Mohamed Yahya Ould Abdel Wedoud for Magharebia in Nouakchott — 23/02/10
Mauritania on Monday (February 22nd) expressed "outrage" over Mali's release of four Salafist prisoners last week and recalled its Ambassador to Mali for "consultations" on the matter.
"In a surprising move, Malian authorities handed over to a terrorist organisation a Mauritanian citizen sought by Mauritanian justice," the Mauritanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (MAEC) said in a statement, adding that the measure is "a violation of agreements signed by both countries in the areas of judicial co-operation and security coordination".
Malian authorities on February 18th released the four prisoners in what analysts called a deal to save the life of Pierre Camatte. The Frenchman was kidnapped last November in Mali by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has also claimed responsibility for abducting three Spanish aid workers and an Italian couple in Mauritania.
A leader of the ruling Union for the Republic Party (URP), Saleh Ould Dehmach, told Magharebia on February 21st: "With all due respect for Malian sovereignty, I think that such an unprecedented step poses a hazard to the entire region."
"The Malian authorities should have respected the rights of their neighbour before taking such an action," added the URP official. "This is more of a reward to a group of outlaws."
Dehmach said Mauritania is not intimidated by groups like AQIM and that "Mauritanian authorities have mobilised the security forces … to face down terrorist groups that carry out criminal operations in the region and take foreign hostages".
In response to criticism, an advisor to Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré was quoted by AFP as saying: "We had a problem: how to do everything we could to save the life of the Frenchman".
"It was our duty to ask people in the north (of Mali) to get involved. We owe this to France, a friendly country," the advisor told the agency on February 22nd.
But many Mauritanians contacted by Magharebia said that by giving in to al-Qaeda's demands, Mali would make kidnapping foreigners a profitable business across the region, with heavy consequences for development.
"I think the Malian state ought to have handed over the wanted Mauritanian terrorist to the Mauritanian government instead of releasing him," said merchant Saeid Bouh Ould Lemrabott. "Releasing AQIM activists and paying ransoms will enhance all forms of terrorism, including trading in foreigners."
Sidi Ould Vall, a banker living in Nouakchott, told Magharebia: "It seems that Mali gave in to the increasing French pressure in order to obtain the freedom of its citizen, who was kidnapped by AQIM, which will surely boost the morale of a terrorist clique that lives off the tragedies and pains of people."
"There's no doubt that what Mali did is bound to have some adverse consequences, especially for Mauritania and Algeria," he added.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner visited Mali twice in the last two weeks in an attempt to save Camatte, who twice faced al-Qaeda deadlines for reaching a deal in order to spare his life.
"Trading AQIM activists for a foreigner in Mali will push the door wide open for bargaining over jailed AQIM activists in Mauritania, which is likely to place the Mauritanian government under enormous pressure," political analyst Ahmed Ould Moujtaba told Magharebia.
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