September 16, 2011
Algeria is soon scheduled to host a conference, with the presence of Western diplomats, on the danger of terrorist activities in the aftermath of the Arab revolutions. Although there is, of course, the danger of Islamists emerging taking effectively to take over the region, the Algerian government hardly seems to be the suitable interlocutor in matters relating to either counterterrorism or democracy.
When embers of the Gaddafi family, according to media reports, escaped to Algeria.at the end of August — when Muammar Gaddafi’s second wife, Safia; two of his sons, Mohammed and Hannibal, and his daughter Aisha managed to cross the border and find refuge in the neighboring country — not only did the Libyan rebels consider the Algerian government’s hospitality towards the Gaddafis an act of aggression; the same opinion was shared by the Algerian opposition, who accused Algerian government of trying to suppress any popular democratic hopes.
Although the Algerian government has argued that the reason it gave the Gaddafi family safe haven was merely for humanitarian reasons, the two military dictatorships, Algeria and Libya, have, since the 1980s, shared same stances on regional issues — including the wish to wrest the Western Sahara, controlled by the Polisario, from Morocco; and a hostility toward Israel.
The Polisario is a politico-military organization currently fighting Morocco to take control of the former Western Sahara, currently under Morocco’s sovereignty, and win independence for that region. According to a source from the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC), on the French website, geotribune.com, some 556 fighters belonging to the Polisario Front have been apprehended by the forces of the NTC.
The Polisario’s headquarters are based in the Algerian town of Tindouf, close to the Moroccan border.. The African Press Agency claims that the Algerian government still supports Gaddafi in his attempts to recruit mercenaries — especially from the Polisario: “The Algerian government spares no effort to facilitate the arrival of new reinforcements for Gaddafi to shield his regime from falling and avoid the repercussions on Algeria’s stability that may arise from such a collapse.”
Although Polisario mercenaries have been captured, primarily in the city of Zawiya and in the Bab El Aziziah compound in Tripoli, according to geotribune.com,. full evidence of their presence in Libya had also been found at the Algerian Embassy in Tripoli, attacked by insurgents on August 22. According to the same source, many Polisario combatants were killed during the fights that preceded the collapse of the Gaddafi regime; others managed to flee.
The presence of Polisario militias fighting alongside the Gaddafi regime wss denounced from the time the uprising began. As the Moroccan Agency’s “Maghreb Arabe Presse” indicated, about two weeks into the revolt, “Polisario elements [were] recruited by the Libyan regime to repress the insurrection, protect the capital Tripoli and to take back cities under the control of rebels.” This report was later confirmed by the former Libyan Minister for Immigration, Ali Errichi, who had defected to the rebels, and who declared on the Washington-based TV channel El Mohajir, that “mercenaries from the Polisario Front of Western Sahara were fighting alongside pro-Gaddafi forces in the war against the Libyan people.”
The Moroccan American Center for Policy reported that Errishi also condemned members of the Polisario for their “hypocrisy” in claiming to fight for freedom and progressive ideals, but then joining the Gaddafi’s mercenary army.
News items reported, in the beginning of the Libyan uprising, that Gaddafi himself spoke directly to Muhammad Abdelaziz, the leader of the Polisario Front, to ask for help. Gaddafi has supported the Polisario against Morocco, both financially and logistically, since the mid-1970s, by providing equipment for an entire army. At Gaddafi’s request, over 200 well-trained Polisario fighters, proficient in the techniques of guerrilla warfare, were selected, and armed with Kalashnikovs, grenades, and rocket launchers, and sent on their way aboard 4X4s headed for Libya.
The presence of Polisario mercenaries in Libya has sparked, from the beginning of the uprising, heavy tension between the NTC and Algeria. The NTC has accused the Algerian leadership of actively supporting the Libyan dictator by facilitating the transit of armed troops to Libya. Criticism has also come from the Algerian opposition, such as the political scientist Lahouari Addi, who, in an interview to the French daily La Croix, said that “Polisario mercenaries could not have reached Libya without the help of Algiers.”
Recognition of the NTC
Under international pressure, Algeria recently announced that it would recognize the NTC, even though the Algerian government had continually opposed a no-fly zone over Libya. The toppling of Gaddafi is hard to digest for the Algerian regime, scared that the same scenario could well be repeated in Algeria. The Algerian paper El Watan wrotes that the Algerian dictatorship fears for its own survival, and that is why it stood until the end on the side of the Tunisian dictator Ben Ali, and still continues to support the Gaddafis.
Algeria claims that the reason for its initial reluctance towards the NTC was not because it fears democracy, but because is worried that the Islamists will take over Libya. These claims sound more like an effort to discredit the NTC. The Algerian regime itself is not clear from links with terrorism. In many instances, the Algerian secular opposition have questioned whether Islamist groups were manipulated or controlled by the Algerian secret service. Further, the Algerian government is backing the Polisario, a terrorist organization in the past, supported by Cuba, and with alleged connections with Al-Qaeda.