As the deteriorating situation in the West African state of Mali fuels concerns of spillover violence, Tunisia has yet to take an official stance on how the international community should respond.
The violence in Mali, where Islamist extremists have taken control of northern cities, has the potential to harm nearby Tunisia, said Ahmed Ounaies, a Tunisian political analyst and the former Minister of Foreign Affairs.
“Tunisia isolated itself from what’s happening in the region, which is strange,” Ounaies said. “These armed Islamist groups in North Mali are trying to force their extremist agenda there. They’re smuggling weapons from Libya, and sometimes to or through Tunisia.”
As the international community prepares for military intervention, Ounaies said, Tunisia has not been as proactive as its larger neighbor, Algeria, which has loudly opposed military intervention amid concerns that an invasion would only aggravate the violence.
Among the three major players in international negotiations—Algeria, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and Western countries such as France and the U.S.—Algeria alone continues to oppose military intervention, Ounaies said.
“Algeria has its own policy… However, Mali’s stability is important to the whole region,” Ounaies said.
During a round table held today at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis, General Carter Ham, Commander for U.S. Africa Command, said he addressed the situation in Mali at a meeting with the Tunisian Ministry of Defense, among other regional security issues. What happens in Mali will have an effect across the region, including Tunisia, he said.
“Tunisia military officers understand this and recognize the need to work in partnership with the neighboring states in matters such as border security so that the people of Tunisia are safe,” Ham said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
In October, the UN Security Council voted to pursue a military intervention and gave the ECOWAS—which supports intervention—45 days to provide a sufficient number of soldiers and a plan for the military operations.
According to Ounaies, despite Algeria’s objection, the UN Security Council will declare at its next session the beginning of military operations in North Mali.