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Mali unfit to host security summit

NOUAKCHOTT, Mar 19 – Mauritania on Friday voiced disapproval of the choice of Mali\’s capital Bamako to host the next summit on security in the Sahara and the Sahel nations, the foreign ministry said.

"While Mauritania agrees with the principle of holding this summit, it considers that it was premature to settle on a venue" during a diplomatic meeting of seven nations in Algeria on March 16, a ministry statement said.

The foreign ministry said that because of its opposition to Bamako, it "has not signed" the post-summit statement released after the Algiers gathering, which was devoted to coordinating regional efforts to fight terrorism.

Mauritania\’s declaration came against a background of tension between the Nouakchott and Bamako governments, after Mali last month freed four Islamic radicals who were wanted by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). After these men were released, AQIM on February 23 freed a French hostage, Pierre Camatte.

Both Mauritania and Algeria responded to the release of the Islamists by recalling their ambassadors to Bamako. Two of the four freed men came from Algeria, one from Burkina Faso and one from Mauritania and Algiers and Nouakchott had wanted to try their nationals.

The Algiers declaration that Mauritania said it did not sign stressed the importance of holding "as soon as possible in Bamako the conference of heads of state on peace, security and development in the Sahel-Sahara region," which was postponed several times in 2009.

At present, AQIM is demanding the release of Islamist prisoners held in Nouakchott in exchange for the release of two Spaniards kidnapped in November in Mauritania and currently held in the northern Mali desert.

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