Algeria and US discussing terrorism and Sahara

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afrol News, 8 November - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on his visit to the United States has met with President George Bush and other US officials to review US-Algerian relations on to key issues - the fight against terrorism and the Western Sahara conflict.

In the fight against Muslim fundamentalists, the US could not get a better ally than the Algerian government, with its years of experience and its established intelligence. Algeria, on the other hand, is grateful for the renewed US and European interest in fighting terrorism, including the round up of Algerian oppositional groups abroad. Further, Algeria wants to sell its cooperation by achieving stronger support for the Sahrawi against Morocco and more US investment in the Algerian oil and gas sector.

President Bouteflika, on his weeklong US tour, has met with US officials and managers in Washington, Philadelphia and the US oil capital Houston. On Monday, Bouteflika met with Bush in the White House.

Bouteflika achieved a joint statement confirming that the US and Algeria had "a common interest" in fighting international terrorism, also referring to those revolts by Muslim fundamentalists that have marred the Algerian government for a decade, following the nullification of the free elections where the Muslim front had gained parliamentary majority.

The Algerian government has tried to improve relations with Washington for years, especially to obtain new investments in the run-down key oil and gas industry. According to Algiers government sources, the 11 September terrorist attack on the US has created "a more favourable international climate" for this isolated North African country.

While Algerian fundamentalist exiles so far had been accepted as refugees in Europe, referring to the lack of respect of human rights by the Algerian government, they are now being treated as potential terrorists. Algerian "terrorist" networks have been dismantled all over Europe, to Algiers' great delight.

President Bouteflika also used his stays in Houston and Washington to remind the US of the Algerian position on Western Sahara, repeating his country's "adhesion to the UN peace plan". 

The Sahrawi question was "elaborated in the Baker Foundation and in the White House," the Algerian government confirms. There was given attention to the "Algerian position of all times, founded on the UN doctrine of decolonisation," and referring to the UN resolution 1514, which calls for independence of colonised territories such as Western Sahara.

According to the same Algerian government source, Algeria thus support the UN project that has "to culminate in the decolonisation process of Western Sahara, carried through on the basis of the right to auto-determination of the Sahrawi people." The UN resolutions and peace plan and the Houston Agreement of 1997, signed also by Morocco, had to be a basis for the solution of the conflict.

The only new element to the Algerian view has been the rejection of the May 2001 plan of UN special Envoy and US ex-Secretary of State, James Baker, which did not demand a referendum on the Western Sahara issue. The official Algerian rejection was "repeated in Houston and in Washington," the Algerian source confirms.

Meeting James Baker in Houston, Abdelaziz Bouteflika however confirmed his confidence in the UN Envoy, searching for a final solution to the Sahara conflict. 

Tables however seem somewhat turned in the Western Sahara conflict after US and European relations with Algeria are improving, while Morocco has experienced a wave of negative attention over the last month. 

European Union member Spain currently is involved in a "diplomatic crisis" with Morocco over Moroccan claims that negative press reports are part of a Spanish government campaign against Morocco. Further, the official visit of Moroccan King Mohammed VI to occupied Western Sahara has provoked an avalanche of protests - and further negative press reports about Morocco, especially in the Spanish press. Algerian pro-Sahara arguments thus now seem more likely to be heard.

Meanwhile, human rights organisations are fearing that the common Algerian-Western interests will produce less attention on the large-scale violations of human rights in Algeria. 

Peaceful protests in by the families of "disappeared" persons in Constatine have been dispersed by the security forces on several occasions during the last month. An estimated 4,000 men and women have "disappeared" in Algeria after being arrested by the security forces. Recent killings by the same forces are not being investigated and press freedom is deteriorating. US and European protests are however expected to silence. 

Sources: Based on afrol Español, SPS and Amnesty

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