Britain's Cameron in Algiers after desert bloodbath

30th January 2013, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron flew to Algeria on Wednesday in the wake of this month's hostage crisis at a gas plant deep in the Sahara in which several Britons were killed.

The first visit by a British premier since Algeria won independence from France in 1962 comes less than two weeks after 37 foreign hostages were killed when Islamists stormed the In Amenas facility and in the attack's aftermath.

Cameron was greeted by Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and later also had talks with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the national APS news agency reported.

His visit ends on Thursday.

The British leader's spokeswoman said Cameron would seek a partnership with Algeria on tackling extremism, reflecting growing concern in London about unrest in North Africa, and in Mali.

Cameron told reporters travelling with him that the gas complex attack and a French-led military operation in Mali "reminds us of the importance of partnership between Britain and countries in the region."

"What I want to do is work with the Algerian government and with other governments in the region to make sure that we do everything that we can to combat terrorism in a way that is both tough and intelligent, and uses everything we have at our disposal, which will make them safer, make us safer, make the world safer," Cameron said on British television from Algiers.

"What is required in countries like Mali, just as in countries like Somalia on the other side of Africa, is that combination of a tough approach on security, aid, politics, settling grievances and problems," he said.

"An intelligent approach that brings together all the things we need to do with countries in this neighbourhood to help them to make them safer but to make us safer too."

Cameron is accompanied by his national security adviser and a trade envoy, Downing Street said, while British reports said the head of Britain's foreign intelligence service MI6 was also on the trip.

"The talks are expected to focus on strengthening our security cooperation and seeing how we can work in partnership with the Algerians to deliver a tough, patient and intelligent response to tackle the terrorist threat," his spokeswoman said.

A statement from the Algerian presidency called the visit a chance "to renew political dialogue" with Britain.

It would enable "an exchange of views and analysis between President Bouteflika and his guest on a number of questions of common interest and on topics relating to current regional and international events," it added.

Six Britons are believed to have been among 37 foreign hostages killed when gunmen earlier this month stormed the gas plant and the Algerian army launched a military assault in response.

One Algerian and 29 gunmen were also killed.

Britain expressed concern after the hostage crisis erupted that London had not been consulted before the Algerian authorities launched their military operation, but Cameron's spokeswoman played this down.

"We were clear at the time we were disappointed not to be told about the initial rescue but the prime minister is looking forward to this trip to see how we can strengthen ties with Algeria," she said.

The visit was "part of efforts to lead a coordinated international response to the evolving threat from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which is operating from parts of the Sahel region," she said.

"We want to stand side-by-side with countries in the region working together to overcome the threat."

After his arrival, Cameron placed flowers at the monument to martyrs of the Algerian war of independence at El Madania, overlooking the capital.

Britain on Tuesday said it would deploy more than 300 military personnel in a non-combat role to help the French-led military action against Islamist rebels in Mali, Algeria's southern neighbour.

Cameron is in Algeria en route to Liberia, where he will co-chair an international development conference on Friday.

© 2013 AFP

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