French intervention was the “last resort” of the beleaguered Malian government, says Tunisia’s former minister of foreign affairs, Ahmed Ounaies.
And it seems that Tunisia’s current government would have preferred if France were not involved in the fight against rebel insurgents, who were threatening to take over Mali.
“We believe that the problems arising in Africa must be resolved within an African framework,” Tunisian Foreign Affairs Minister Rafik Abdessalem said on Tuesday, four days after France initiated airstrikes against rebel positions in Mali.
“In general, we are against foreign intervention,” he added.
However, such misgivings about non-African involvement in Mali did not surface in statements made yesterday by the minister to Tunisian radio Mosaique FM.
Tunisia’s government “understands” why France decided to intervene militarily, asserted Abdessalem in the interview.
“Tunisia condemns the threats that Mali is encountering from armed terrorist groups and understands the political decision taken by Mali concerning the imminent risks to which [the capital] Bamako is exposed.”
The minister went on to call France’s ongoing involvement in Mali “a surgical operation that came in exceptional circumstances.”
Had Algeria taken a more proactive role in “break[ing] the violence” in Mali, suggests Ounaies, France may not have had to intervene to the extent that it has.
“The [Malian] government resorted to France once it realized that military cooperation with Algeria to eliminate terrorism in the Sahel region was no longer effective,” the former minister told Tunisia Live.
In April 2010, Algeria in partnership with Mauritania, Mali, and Niger established the Committee of Joint Chiefs (CEMOC) in a bid to pool their military capabilities and combat extremism in the African Sahel.
Nevertheless, since its creation, attacks, arms smuggling, and kidnappings by extremists with links to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have grown in number. The droves of pro-Gaddafi fighters that departed Libya for Niger and Mali following the Libyan strongman’s ouster in October 2011 have only aggravated the regional security situation.
Wednesday’s assault on the In Amenas gas plant in southern Algeria by armed militants is only the latest of a string of similar attacks in the Sahel region.
“Even though it is Algeria which created CEMOC, it did not work to combat terrorism,” said Ounaies.
Algeria has the largest army compared to its partners in CEMOC, and it has come under criticism for not deploying more of its military forces to stamp out extremist activities in other CEMOC countries.
Even as support for an African-led military engagement in northern Mali was mounting within the international community, Algeria positioned itself in opposition to any such intervention, calling for dialogue with the rebels instead.
Tunisian officials, including Abdessalem himself, fear the effects that instability in Mali can have on Tunisia.
“We cannot ensure the security of Tunisia and Maghreb countries without ensuring the security of countries in the African Sahel. It is the same security arena,” Ounaies explained.
President Moncef Marzouki expressed concern that Tunisia is turning into an arms “corridor” between Libya and Mali in an interview with France 24 on Saturday, January 12.
Besides the regional effects of the Mali conflict, the ongoing military campaign against rebel forces in the country risks being a protracted one.
“[It] will not end in a matter of days because the enemy is not clear or simple,“ said Ounaies of the complex identity of the Al-Qaeda-linked rebels.