Algeria closes airspace to the French army and recalls its ambassador to France in an intensifying diplomatic context | World news

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On September 29, French President Emmanuel Macron pays tribute to a French soldier killed in action in Mali.  Photo: AP


Algeria has closed its airspace to French military flights and has recalled its ambassador to France as the feud between the two countries escalates.

The measures were prompted by what Algerian officials called “inadmissible” comments attributed to French President Emmanuel Macron, first reported on Saturday.

Analysts say a ban on French forces from using Algerian airspace could affect operation to hamper jihadists in Africa’s Sahel region, but French government says it will have “no consequences major ”.

Paris is currently ending Operation Barkhane, which saw some 5,000 French troops deployed to Mali, but Macron said he wanted many of those soldiers to stay in West Africa, reshaping the counterterrorism mission In the region.

It also comes at a sensitive time for France’s relations with its former African colonies, with the 60th anniversary next March of the end of the Algerian war of independence and Malian anger at the French withdrawal.

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French President Emmanuel Macron meets with locals in Algiers in 2017. Photo: AP

What motivated Algeria’s actions?

The ambassador’s recall would have come after reports of comments attributed by the newspaper Le Monde to Mr. Macron on what was happening in this North African country.

Mr Macron reportedly told a group of young people with ties to the former French colony that Algeria’s “politico-military system” had rewritten the history of its colonization on the basis of “hatred of France. And also questioned whether an Algerian nation existed before French colonial rule.

An Algerian government spokesperson did not say what comment made him recall his ambassador, but accused Macron of interfering in Algerian internal affairs.

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Emmanuel Macron has already been slapped in the face shaking hands with people.

An Algerian government source, however, told Reuters that the commentary on Algeria’s existence as a nation had particularly upset Mr. Macron and accused Mr. Macron of behaving in a way that was motivated by obtaining information. ‘far-right support’ ahead of the French presidential elections next year.

Franco-Algerian relations were already under some strain last week after France announced it would reduce the number of visas available to Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian citizens – prompting an official protest from Algeria.

France said at the time that its decision was a response to North African governments’ refusal to take back illegal migrants sent home by French authorities, but Algeria summoned the French ambassador to provide an explanation.

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On September 29, French President Emmanuel Macron pays tribute to a French soldier killed in action in Mali. Photo: AP

What are the wider implications?

France had hoped that its military activities in Mali, which is Algeria’s southern neighbor, would help curb the activities of Islamist insurgents in the Sahara and the Sahel, but the violence has spread to other countries.

Consequently, France is reducing the number of its troops in Mali to 2,500-3,000, moving more assets to Niger – also a neighbor to southern Algeria – and wishes to strengthen the involvement of other European countries in the fight against insurgency.

But, in the process, the French partial withdrawal triggered the anger of Mali, which is now working to recruit a group of Russian mercenaries in place of French troops, prompting France to launch a diplomatic campaign to thwart it.

It is believed that French military planes can fly over Algeria towards Mali and the Sahel, but not being able to use Algerian airspace could be a disadvantage for its military.

While the anti-extremist force is now reinforced by a UN presence of more than 13,000 soldiers, at a time when France is eager to suppress the activities of the insurgents, a quarrel with Algeria could further complicate the battle against the threat. terrorist.

Former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (left), pictured here with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011, was a former freedom fighter who remained in power for four consecutive terms.  Photo: AP
Image:
Former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (left), pictured here with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011, was a former freedom fighter who remained in power for four consecutive terms. Photo: AP

Why are relations with Algeria so fragile?

France maintains difficult relations with many of its former colonies, but ties with Algeria are heavily shaped by the bloody seven-year war of independence.

It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people have died. Most were Algerians, but tens of thousands of French soldiers and former settlers were also killed.

Since independence in 1962, Algerian politics have been unstable, with an 11-year civil war in the 1990s, also causing tens of thousands of deaths.

Stability only emerged after a political victory for independence war veteran Abdelaziz Bouteflika, but he was forced out of power by protests in 2019, after four contentious terms, and died in September.

The current president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, was elected amid relentless protests in a heavily boycotted election, having previously been a member of Bouteflika’s cabinet.

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