ALGIERS, Nov 6, 2012 (AFP) -
ALGIERS, Nov 6, 2012 (AFP) –
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton visited Algiers on Tuesday to discuss the crisis in neighbouring Mali, on the second leg of a regional tour to press European concerns about security in the Sahel country.
Ashton raised the possibility of sending a European mission to support the authorities in Bamako during her meeting with Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci and Algeria’s minister for Maghreb and African affairs Abdelkader Messahel.
Her spokesman Michael Mann said the EU supported ongoing efforts, including by the west African bloc ECOWAS, to help Mali regain control of its breakaway north, which hardline Islamist groups have occupied since April.
“Sending a (European) support mission is one of the possibilities envisaged,” he told AFP.
The EU foreign policy chief’s visit, which follows her first trip to Morocco on Monday, comes as West African army chiefs met in Bamako to study a proposal drafted by international experts on how their troops could expel the Islamists from northern Mali.
Algeria, with its superior military capabilities and its 1,400 kilometre border with Mali, is seen as key to any military operation but has been hesitant to get involved, preferring a negotiated solution.
A delegation from Ansar Dine, the main Islamist group in Mali, which has links to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the terror network’s north African franchise, is currently in Algeria for talks.
A source close to the delegation told AFP that Ansar Dine is ready to negotiate directly with Bamako, where representatives of the group met Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, chief mediator for ECOWAS, on Tuesday.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Algeria last week to lobby for support in ousting the extremists from Mali.