Algeria: Old Unfinished Business Threatens The Future

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November 20, 2013: Algeria has succeeded in neutralizing Algerian Islamic terrorists who sought to take control of the government, but it having growing problems with another group of Moroccan terrorists (Polisario) that it helped create decades ago. This action caused problems with neighboring Morocco and the problem recently got worse. The two countries recently recalled ambassadors and there is talk of escalation. This has made cooperation (in counter-terrorism or anything else) with Morocco impossible and provided Islamic terrorists with a safe haven in Polisario refugee camps in Algeria (90,000 refugees) and Mauritania (24,000).

This is all connected with the declining prospects of Polisario, which has been in bad shape since 1991. Back then, Morocco finally won its war with Polisario Front rebels, who were seeking independence for the Western Sahara (a region south of Morocco). Polisario remains powerful in Mauritania, where the rebel group has official recognition and maintains several more refugee camps. In the beginning (the 1960s) Polisario was so well-subsidized by Algeria, back when Algeria was a radical state, that Polisario still has enough diehards out there to keep a lot of people in the Western Sahara unhappy. This policy was known to provide recruits and sanctuary for al Qaeda and other Islamic radicals. For two decades the UN has been trying to work out a final peace deal between Polasario and Morocco.

In the 1990s, Algeria cut off all support for Polasario. But that, and UN efforts to mediate the differences, have just not worked. The contested area is largely desert with a current population of less than 600,000. Logic would have it that the area is better off as a part of Morocco. But there are still thousands of locals who would rather fight for independence than submit to Morocco. Some resistance is tribal and cultural, with the Moroccans seen as another bunch of alien invaders. The area was administered, until 1976, as a Spanish colony. Most Western Saharans have made peace with Moroccan rule. Polisario still has several thousand armed men based in the refugee camps and refuses to accept Moroccan rule of Western Sahara. If the fighting breaks out again, possibly inspired by Islamic radicals, it could go on for years, just as it does in many other parts of Africa and the immediate neighborhood.

Over the last five years Polisario got involved in the cocaine smuggling operation run by al Qaeda. This provides money, some of which goes to guns and vehicles, making the Polisario fighters more formidable. Mali and Mauritanian police are increasingly arresting members of the Polisario Front who are involved with a major drug smuggling operation (moving cocaine from Guinea-Bissau, where it is flown in from South America, to the Mediterranean coast). Polisario Front members have long been involved in smuggling and other illegal activities, but their involvement in moving cocaine is relatively recent. This implies cooperation with al Qaeda, which apparently has worked out deals with Polisario. This has alarmed other nations in the region, but Algeria refuses to back away from its long-standing support for an independent state of Western Sahara. This is despite the fact that such a nation would be run by criminals and terrorists and be dependent on foreign aid and criminal activities to survive. For Algeria it’s all about national pride, at least for the increasingly unpopular Algerian leadership. These are the people who originally provided the support to keep Polisario going in the first place. This is yet another reason for Algerians to be unhappy with their government. Most Algerians see Polisario and the Western Sahara issue as an expensive mistake and are more concerned with economic issues at home.

In Niger the government shut down camps used by illegal migrants after the bodies of 92 people (most of them women and children) were found in the desert. Their vehicles had broken down in late October and the illegal migrants ran out of water after five days and died.

November 19, 2013: Four Islamic terrorists were sentenced to 20 years in prison for kidnapping 15 tourists in 2003. The four were working for al Qaeda at the time.

November 11, 2013: A Chinese automobile manufacturer (FAW, with annual sales of $61 billion) made a deal with an Algerian company to set up an automobile assembly plant in Algeria that would put together 10,000 cars a year. Most of the components and technology would come from China. FAW would invest over $60 million to get the operation going.

November 5, 2013: In a southern desert area an army patrol rescued 61 illegal migrants from Niger and Guinea. The illegal migrants had started their journey in Niger but two of their vehicles had broken down. Algeria and Niger are under growing pressure from Europe to do more to halt the illegal immigrants, who risk death in the desert and at sea as they try to get into Europe.

November 2, 2013: In the west (near al Sawrah) soldiers caught up with a group of Islamic terrorists and killed five of them. The army had received a tip that Islamic terrorists were going to try and sneak into al Sawrah and establish a safe house.

 

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