Tebboune reiterates foreign policy tenets, including stand on Western Sahara

Tebboune described the Western Sahara issue as one of "decolonisation" that was better left to the United Nations and African Union to address.
Tuesday 31/12/2019
Newly elected Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune delivers a speech during a swearing-in ceremony in Algiers, Algeria December 19, 2019. (Reuters)
Newly elected Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune delivers a speech during a swearing-in ceremony in Algiers, Algeria December 19, 2019. (Reuters)

TUNIS - In his first speech since being sworn into office, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune expressed views confirming Algiers’ previous stances on various policies, although he struck an assertive tone regarding Libya.

Tebboune reiterated Algiers’ policy towards Western Sahara conflict, which is the root of decades-old rift between Morocco and Algeria and caused the closing of the border between the two countries.

Tebboune described the Western Sahara issue as one of "decolonisation" that was better left to the United Nations and African Union to address.

His stance, reiterating policies of Algeria's political-military establishment on the Western Sahara, does not offer a new prospect of improved relations with Morocco or of greater integration in the Maghreb.

Tebboune nonetheless reassured Algeria's "brothers" in the Maghreb "they will see from us only good things and good intentions. They will see no harm and no trouble from our side."

The main foreign policy focus was on Libya.

"Algeria will make more efforts to achieve stability in Libya and safeguard the unity of its people and its territory,” Tebboune said December 19, a week after winning election as president. “This is part of our duties and priorities."

His statement was the most forceful stand by an Algerian leader since 2011 when Libya plunged into turmoil and division after NATO-backed Islamists toppled former leader Muammar Qaddafi. Algeria was among the few Arab countries to voice opposition to NATO's intervention in Libya.

"Algeria is the first and most country concerned by Libya's stability, whether one likes it or not. Algeria will never accept being excluded from the proposed solutions to the Libyan crisis," he said.

Tebboune did elaborate on the countries and factions in Libya attempting to prevent Algeria's influence in the strife-torn country. His comments coincided with a Germany-initiated move towards an international conference to which Algeria was not invited. It also coincided with Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA) approval of potential Turkish military intervention in Libya.

The GNA on December 19 "unanimously approved the implementation of the memorandum of understanding on security and military cooperation between the GNA and the Turkish government signed on November 27," it said in a statement.

Based on the GNA's request, Ankara could help pro-GNA's Islamist militias repel an offensive by the National Libyan Army (LNA), led by Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The United Nations said Turkey has supplied military equipment to Islamist militias loyal to the GNA, including tanks and drones.

"We advise our brothers in Libya to avoid foreign intervention and meddling as they cause only more division among their ranks," Tebboune said.

Algeria suffered from the spillover of the conflict in January 2013 when militants staged an attack at the gas refinery in In Amenas, killing 38 hostages during a 4-day siege.

Tebboune pledged support for Sahel countries, citing "the shared bonds of religion and neighbourhood."

The leaders of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso met in Niger after the death of 71 Niger soldiers December 16 in an attack claimed by the Islamic State.

Islamist violence has plagued the Sahel, an arid area on the southern fringe of the Sahara, since Qaddafi’s ousting. Mali was almost overrun by al-Qaeda-affiliated militants the following year and Burkina Faso faces its worst humanitarian crisis because of almost-daily hit-and-run attacks.

Chadian President Idriss Deby complained recently: "States in the region suffering from terrorism are spending 18-32% of their budgets to fight terrorism.

"There is a direct link between the spread of terrorism in the Sahel and the chaos in Libya after NATO intervention in 2011. It is in the coming year that the future of the Sahel will be decided."

Tebboune said Algeria’s hands will remain "extended to all Arab countries with no exception" to close "ranks and repudiate divisions and rifts and overcome ordeals and hardships experienced now by our region under various contexts and pretexts."