North Africa Theater

Libya to expel Palestinians?

BBC Monitoring reports on a March 14 story on the website of the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat, "Libya hints at [possibility of] expelling the Palestinians under the pretext of combating settlement in the diaspora":

The Palestinians have expressed surprise at Libya's remarks of the possibility of expelling thousands of Palestinian residents under the pretext of combating settlement, and called on Col [Mu'ammar] al-Qadhafi to refrain from that [measure].

Algeria: rebels killed planting bombs

Two Algerian Islamist militants were killed and several wounded when a roadside bomb they were planting outside the capital Algiers exploded prematurely, the official APS news agency said March 14. The two bombs were to be buried and detonated from a distance by mobile phone, said the agency. An unspecified number of wounded militants were taken away on a tractor they hijacked from a farmer in the area, witnesses said. The militants are believed to be followers of al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb. (Reuters, March 14)

Algeria: Islamist insurgency back on?

Abu Abduallah Ahmad, financial officer of the so-called "al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb," confirmed to AlJazeera's Morocco office that his group was responsible for two attacks in Algeria over the March 3-4 weekend that killed seven police and four Russian gas pipeline workers. Said Ahmad: "We, al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb, claim responsibility for the bombing of the bus of the Russians, who fight Islam and its followers and our brothers in Chechnya. We ask the Muslim Algerian people, to keep away from the infidels and tyrant posts to avoid future attacks."

Niger: Tuareg revolt back on?

Niger's military reports killing at least five "armed bandits" in a remote Saharan region still largely outside state control more than 10 years after the end of a rebellion by desert nomads. A defense ministry statement said soldiers seized three vehicles, automatic rifles, munitions and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher in the March 1 clashes near Ouraren in Arlit province, 1,280 kilometers northeast of the capital Niamey. Military sources said that armed men also attacked two public buses, injuring two passengers and robbing others that day on the road between the main regional towns of Arlit and Agadez. "Search operations" are said to be underway.

Western Sahara makes NYT op-ed page —but not Sahrawi perspective

Frederick Vreeland, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asia affairs and former US ambassador to Morocco, has an op-ed in the March 3 New York Times on the usually obscure crisis in Western Sahara, optimistically entitled "Will Freedom Bloom in the Desert?" Its nice to see the "newspaper of record" finally paying some note to the long struggle in Africa's last colony, but the paucity of coverage makes it all the more frustrating that this lead op-ed is a piece of dishonest propaganda for Morocco's pseudo-solution of an "autonomy" plan, which Vreeland writes "it behooves all members of the United Nations Security Council to support."

Western Sahara: Morocco proposes autonomy

Morocco has announced it will present an autonomy plan for Western Sahara to the United Nations next month in hopes of ending the three-decade conflict. The plan would give the occupied territory a parliament, a chief of state, cabinet and judiciary, said Khalihenna Ould Errachid, King Mohamed VI's chief adviser on the territory. "We can stay at an impasse, or seek a middle way that leaves neither winners nor losers —and that's autonomy," he said. A Western Sahara parliament could create laws as long as they do not violate Morocco's national law, while regional courts would fall under the Moroccan legal system, he said, adding that Morocco would retain control of foreign relations, defense, finance and border control. Western Sahara would also keep Morocco's flag, currency and stamps. King Mohamed VI would continue to be recognized as the highest religious authority in the land. But the Polisario Front resistance movement, which has observed a ceasefire since 1991, insists on a referendum on independence. The UN has officially endorsed this solution, but it has languished for years, while Morocco's occupation is becoming normalized. Last year, the European Union signed a fishing deal with Morocco allowing European fleets acess to Western Sahara's waters. (AP, March 2 via Africast)

Polisario Front destroys landmines; Morocco holds out

On Feb. 27, the Polisario Front's special mine action team destroyed 3,321 anti-personnel mines in Tifariti, Western Sahara. This was the Polisario Front’s second stockpile destruction since it signed the "Deed of Commitment for Adherence to a Total Ban on Antipersonnel Mines" in November 2005. High-level Polisario officials, including Secretary General Mohamed Abdelaziz, President of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (as recognized by the African Union and many States), attended the ceremony. Geneva Call, the Saharawi Campaign to Ban Landmines (SCBL) and Landmine Action UK inspected the destruction site before and after the operation. International delegates and media representatives also witnessed the event, among them Major General Kurt Mosgaard, Force Commander of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).

Algeria: Salafists escalate attacks

An Algerian army captain was killed Feb. 28 and another officer seriously injured in an attack near the village of Ain Rich, outside the city of Djelfa. Officials said the Mohadjrine Falange, a wing of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) was responsible. The army is carrying out a sweep of the area. In simultaenous coordinated night raids Feb. 27, several police checkpoints in the Kabylia region and near the coastal city of Boumerdes were attacked by gunmen with AK-47s. No casualties were reported. (AP, Feb. 28; DPA, March 1)

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