North African spy chiefs set up intelligence centre

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Spy chiefs from four north African countries have set up a centre for joint operations against Al Qaeda in the Sahel region during a meeting in Algiers, the Algerian daily Al-Watan said Thursday.

The centre will be run by a coalition of high-ranking officers from Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Algeria who would share information on the activities of terrorist groups in the region, their movements and the identities of members, the newspaper said.

The centre will have a rotating leadership, like the regional military post in Tamanrasset, Algeria, where the meeting is taking place and which was set up to coordinate activities with the armies of Mauritania, Mali and Niger.

The newspaper said the suggestion to include Morocco in the group had been rejected because it was not regarded as part of the region.

Relations between Rabat and Algiers are very tense, due notably to the Western Sahara.

The Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony that was annexed by Morocco in 1975. The Algerian-backed Polisario Front is demanding independence for the region.

The meeting in Algiers comes two weeks after the kidnapping of five French and two African uranium workers in northern Niger by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) -- the north African wing of Osama bin Laden's network.

Al-Qaeda has become increasingly active in the Sahel, the vast desert region spanning the four African countries, in recent years.

France said it was ready to negotiate with AQIM and has deployed an 80-strong military intelligence unit and spotter planes to the Sahara to try to track down the AQIM gang.

© 2010 AFP

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