France's Hollande boosts ties with former foe Algeria
French President Francois Hollande arrived Monday in Algeria for a visit aimed at tackling the "common battle" of the once bitter foes against jihadists from Mali to Libya.
His trip comes after Libya's internationally recognised government said the jihadist mastermind of the 2013 siege of an Algerian gas plant in which 38 hostages died had been killed in a US air strike.
Speaking to reporters in Algiers, Hollande acknowledged the attack that killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, saying France and Algeria were waging a "common battle... against this terrible, implacable enemy which we have targeted and again recently in the past few hours".
Hollande will hold talks with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal during the brief visit, which is also expected to focus on bilateral trade.
"France is Algeria's first trade partner and expects to further boost its presence... with the installation soon of important companies such as Renault, Sanofi, Alstom and Peugeot," said Hollande.
He said ties with Algeria, despite the two countries' prickly past, were "exceptional" and built on "real and fraternal friendship".
Mutual concern over rampant jihadism in North Africa has brought the former foes closer together in recent years.
Algeria shares a border with Mali's north, which is still fragile after a French-led operation in 2013 ousted jihadists who had seized the upper half of the west African nation.
While French troops patrol northern Mali, Algiers has mediated a peace accord between Mali's main Tuareg-led rebel groups and Bamako which will be signed on June 20.
Algeria has also hosted talks between rival political factions from chaos-torn Libya, with which it also shares a long border.
Energy-rich Algeria is eager to promote regional peace, and with France running counter-terrorism Operation Barkhane in five countries in the Sahel -- three of which border it -- Hollande and Bouteflika have much to discuss.
- Troubled past -
Despite a trouble past, both Algeria and France has sought to put a gloss over the visit.
"I attach great importance to the political dialogue between France and Algeria as our two countries contribute to stability and security in the region," Hollande wrote in Algeria's French-language daily Le Quotidien d'Oran ahead of his visit.
A statement from the Algerian presidency said Hollande's visit was "marked by a significant deepening of dialogue and political consultation between the two countries".
Hollande paid his first visit as president to Algeria in December 2012, when he recognised France's century of "brutal" rule over the former colony that ended in a bloody war of independence.
Some 1.5 million Algerians died fighting for self-rule in the 1957-1962 conflict. Today more than half a million Algerians live in France.
On Monday, Hollande also praised Algeria's role "for peace in Mali" and renewed his "gratitude" for tracking down the Islamist militants who kidnapped and beheaded Frenchman Herve Gourdel last year.
The mountain climber was murdered by Jund el-Khilafa, a local affiliate of the Islamic State jihadist group.
Algeria, which witnessed a bloody civil war in the 1990s, was also the birthplace of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that played a key role in the takeover of northern Mali in 2012.
A former top AQIM member, Belmokhtar was killed in a US air strike at the weekend, according to Libya.
The Pentagon said on Sunday Belmokhtar had been the target of the strike but did not confirm he had been killed.
Belmokhtar, who joined the North African Al-Murabitoun group after leaving AQIM, allegedly masterminded the Algerian gas plant siege in 2013 in which 38 hostages, mostly Westerners, died.
Hollande's visit also comes as France and Algeria, which both face economic woes, seek to bolster bilateral trade which reached 10.5 billion euros in 2014.
© 2015 AFP