Mauritania affected by crisis in MaliSouce:Xinhua Publish By Thomas Whittle Updated 24/01/2013 7:18 am in World / no comments
NOUAKCHOTT, Jan. 23 — Given its geographic position as a country that shares a border of over 2,300 km with Mali, Mauritania remains the country that has suffered the most, due to the impact of the counter-offensive that has been conducted for the last two weeks by Mali and French forces, against the rebels in Northern Mali.
The people living along the border of the two countries have, for the last several centuries, cultivated relations in areas such as culture, economy and religion. This is what has facilitated the ease of movement of the armed Islamists from one side of the border to the other for the last several years.
The presence of the militant groups, be they al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) or others such as the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), has considerably affected Mauritania for the last several years.
The country witnessed several terrorist attacks. At the same time, the Mauritanian army was targeted in terrorist attacks that left several soldiers dead in the Northern areas such as Lemgheiitty, Ghalouiya and Tourine. Similarly, the same terrorist groups carried out abductions of Western nationals within the Mauritanian territory.
Despite the merciless counter-offensive from the Mauritanian security forces, the attacks and the abductions had disastrous effects on the country’s tourism industry which had started to take off.
The sector was heavily affected and the number of tourists dropped by 70 percent following the cancellation of the Paris- Dakar rally which used to pass through Mauritania. In addition, Western embassies issued travel advisories for their nationals wishing to visit Mauritania.
Faced with the situation, in 2010 the Mauritanian authorities adopted a new strategy to ward-off terrorist threats. The strategy was based on preventive strikes which mostly took place on the Malian territory to keep danger out of the Mauritanian territory.
The preventive strikes were carried out by special anti- terrorism units which were trained by Mauritania’s partner states like France, the U.S., Spain and Britain.
In addition to the units, the Mauritanian army also acquired special planes that may help its ground forces during an excursion carried out against AQMI camps in Northern Mali.
These measures helped to stop the activities of terrorist groups on the Mauritanian territory.
However, for its Malian neighbor, the terrorist groups continued to operate within its Northern regions. The Libyan crisis worsened the situation by enabling the terrorists to acquire heavy weapons. They used the weapons to capture the Northern Mali towns with a lot of ease due to the weaknesses of the Malian army.
Today, the situation has evolved with operation Serval which brought together the Malian and the French forces to stop the advancement of the rebels towards the southern region of Mali. Other countries like Chad, Niger and Nigeria have also promised to send their troops to fight the armed groups and restore Mali’s territorial integrity.
Following the French offensive, the Mauritanian authorities ruled out the possibility of the country participating in the war but promised to ensure the protection of its borders, a position which appears to be similar to the Algerian position that had been announced a few days earlier.
However, while on a visit to the United Arab Emirates last week, Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said that his country could join the war if Bamako requested for support.
The eventual participation of Mauritania in the war in Northern Mali has sparked off heated arguments in the country’s political class as well as within the religious circles.
On one part, some of the ulemas (muslim scholars) think that the war is being carried out by non-Muslims against Muslims and it should therefore be stopped. On the other hand, others think that the war is against terrorism which does not make any distinction between a Muslim and a non-Muslim.
The Mauritanian political parties are equally divided over the same issue.
The moderate Islamic party, “Tawassoul” as well as the entire Mauritanian opposition has condemned the war and warned against Mauritania’s involvement alongside France in the war in Northern Mali.
However other parties, especially those in the ruling coalition, have hailed the intervention by France and they believe that the intervention deserves to be supported.
Some analysts believe that the pressure being exerted on the armed Islamists by the French forces may force the latter to insist that Mauritania deploys its forces along the border with Mali. Mauritania will therefore be forced to directly get involved in the conflict.