Providing security is difficult in Sahel: Tuareg chief

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The top chief of Algeria's Tuaregs, Ideir Ahmed, warned Monday that it is increasingly difficult to provide security in the Sahel region of north Africa, in an interview with El-Watan daily.

"All our efforts are concentrated on the security situation. But believe me, that is becoming more and more difficult," Ahmed said in the interview given in the southern desert town of Tamanrasset.

"For the moment, we think we are controlling the situation on the ground, but it is not that easy to make ourselves understood. The youth of today are more demanding and less receptive," he stated, attributing the change to social developments.

The "amenokal", or high tribal chief, of Algeria's Tuaregs also denied the presence of some 4OO US soldiers in the Tamanrasset region, as was reported in the French daily Le Figaro and on September 22 by a French satirical news weekly, Le Canard Enchaine.

"The only soldiers in Tamanrasset belong to the National People's Army. A barracks of 400 men like that could not go unnoticed," he said, adding that such reports were "a tendentious propaganda manoeuvre."

Without citing anyone, Ahmed said the "explanation is to be sought perhaps among those who have never accepted Algeria's claims to the Sahara" and added that "the positions of Mali and Niger differ completely from those of Algeria, where the former colonial power (France) is concerned."

Algeria has stated that it does not want foreign troops on its soil to deal with security threats.

"The Algerian Sahara is much sought after and its Tuaregs upset people, because they see themselves in the Algerian state and only obey the Algerian state," Ahmed said, making a distinction between Algeria's Tuaregs and the other nomadic tribes of the Sahel, who are accused of links with traffickers and terror groups, notably Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

However, Ahmed at no time raised the possibility of the involvement of his men in the anti-terrorist struggle and he made no mention of the seven hostages taken in Niger on September 16 and held by AQIM -- five French nationals, a Madagascan and a Togolese.

Former Tuareg rebels in Mali have said they are ready to join Malian troops to drive Al-Qaeda-linked fighters from the north African desert where they are believed to be holding the seven foreign hostages.

Tuareg special military units could prove to be an effective means against AQIM in the Sahara and Sahel because they know the region well, an official on the committee overseeing the implementation of a 2006 peace agreement told AFP.

Tuaregs have previously fought government troops in both Mali and Niger.

© 2010 AFP

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