Mauritania’s oil minister discusses Mali conflict fallout
As the French military intervention in northern Mali continues, many countries in the region have been affected by the fallout. Mauritania, which shares a 2,000-kilometre border with Mali, has seen the arrival of thousands of refugees and has increased military patrols to try and stop Islamist armed groups from penetrating its territory.
Interview: Taleb Ould Abdi Vall, Mauritania’s Minister of Oil, Energy and Mining, at Ifri think-tank
What are the security challenges to the oil and mining industry in Mauritania at the moment?
The security issue in general is very important for the Mauritanian government at this moment. So we think that all the steps have been taken to secure all the operators in the country, as well as our citizens and our territorial integrity. Since 2009 we haven’t been targeted by those terrorist groups as we have conducted a very aggressive policy to improve our security systems and to make our army more proactive to respond rightly to any potential risks in all the regions and particularly in our border region.
Are there lessons to be learnt from the recent kidnapping at the facility in Algeria?
Yes and no. Yes – so we have to take and to learn from all the weaknesses within any operations in the regions. And no – we don’t have the same situation and same operations. So now any operation conducted in Mauritania by the oil operators are closely followed-up by the army and security troops. And so I think with a real open-book process with those operators, we are confident that there are no measures. Of course there will always be some potential risks, which we should time-to-time, find out the weaknesses and other concerns to be taken into account by the authorities.
We understand that you’ve tightened up the border posts with the help of the European Union and there have been a number of arrests of suspected extremists. What else is being done to ensure the stability of the country at the moment? Could you give us some specific examples maybe?
As I said, since 2008 our territory has been fully secure. As I said also, that’s due mainly to the real and great improvement of our security system and so far we think that all of the situations are under control. Obviously we are working daily to find out our weaknesses and try to deal and cover those weaknesses. There are some checkpoints and some arrests but that’s all.
How worrying is the flow of refugees from Mali? We understand that it’s numbering more than 1,000 a day at some times.
That’s a very critical issue for the local authorities. As you may know the number now is around 70,000. So our mission is to secure their entrance into Mauritania and good conditions, of life and that always what is happening now, there isn’t any major epidemic or any other problems recorded within those refugee camps established in our territory. We are monitoring on a daily basis with a very close relationship and partnership with United Nations organisations and so far we think that the situation is fully under control.
In Mauritania itself opinion over the war in Mali is divided amongst the opposition and maybe certain clerics.
About what’s happening in Mali – we are very supportive towards the policy and the decision undertaken by the Malian government to recover its sovereignty. So we fully support that and we support also the operation conducted by the regional organisation as well as the United Nations’ decisions. Our role now, our major role, is to secure the boundary and to secure the territory from any potential risks, which may compromise or make the operation in Mali very difficult. So we are playing a positive role. We will, we are, available to play a political role to find out the right and legitimate solution for the historic problems known in such areas.
How would you respond to members of the opposition who might say that they don’t support the French mission in Mali? How would you respond to their criticism of that?
To proceed by mapping all the individual opinions you will find they’re very diversified, from fully supporting, to a position against the operation in Mali. But the general position of the Mauritanian population and authorities as well political decision makers, they are really supporting what is ongoing in Mali because it is a response and answer to a legitimate request from the Malian authorities. Of course there will always be one or two voices, or some voices, who don’t agree with main orientation and main positions, and that happens anyway, it’s normal in such situations.