Mauritania party against Western help in Al-Qaeda fight

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The leader of a moderate Mauritanian Islamist party said Thursday he opposed any coordination between Mauritania and Western countries, especially France, in the war against Al-Qaeda in the Sahel.

"We all agree to condemn terrorism and fight it vigorously, but we do not agree on coordination with foreign countries, especially when they have a colonial past in the region," said Jemil Ould Mansour, leader of the opposition Tewassoul party, during a forum on extremism in Nouakchott.

He said he favoured regional cooperation, and spoke against advance strikes against Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which has been promoted by Mauritania, for which the country has "neither the means or the time".

The Mauritanian army has recently carried out military operations against AQIM bases in northern Mali, including one in July with the aid of France.

On Wednesday Defence Minister Hamadi Ould Hamadi said his country had opted for an "offensive" strategy against AQIM, which has carried out kidnappings and attacks on Mauritanian soil.

The five-day forum in the capital which ends Thursday night, brings together religious leaders, politicians, cultural figures and civil groups.

Most opposition parties boycotted the forum, claiming it had been unilateraly and hastily organised by majority parties.

The meeting comes shortly after the September 16 kidnapping of five French nationals, a Madagascan and a Togolese from an uranium mining town in Niger. AQIM is believed to be holding them in a mountainous desert region in northeastern Mali.

AQIM groups are active in a vast area of the Sahara desert and Sahel scrubland covering parts of Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

© 2010 AFP

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