Marzouki: Tunisia becoming arms corridor for Malian jihadists
TUNIS - President Moncef Marzouki said on Saturday Tunisia was becoming a "corridor" for arms to Islamist militants in Mali, as the premiers of Algeria, Libya and Tunisia sealed a pact to secure their borders against arms trafficking.
"The situation in Mali has always worried us because we have begun to understand that our our jihadists, quote unquote, have ties with these terrorist forces," Marzouki told France 24 television on the eve of the second anniversary of his country's Arab Spring revolution.
"We have the impression that Tunisia is becoming a corridor for Libyan weapons to these regions," said Marzouki, whose country borders Libya but not Mali.
He was referring to arms from the arsenal of former Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi that he said are reaching Islamists in northern Mali via Tunisia and Algeria, the latter of which shares borders with Mali.
"We are monitoring very closely what is happening in that hornet's nest because it is a hornet's nest that can threaten the security of all the countries, including Tunisia," he said.
In that vein, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia struck an 11-point plan, signed by their respective premiers, Ali Zeidan, Abdelmalek Sella and Hamadi Jebali, to secure their borders, during a meeting in the Libyan oasis of Ghadames.
The three pledged in a statement to "create common border checkpoints and intensify cooperation in the security sphere through joint patrols," and vowed as well to tackle organised crime and terrorism.
The premiers also addressed the crisis in Mali.
"It is necessary to find a political solution to this crisis by fostering dialogue between the different parties in Mali to preserve the sovereignty and unity of its territory," a statement said.
Libya's Zeidan told journalists the "situation in Mali has made it necessary for us to meet in order to prevent and tackle its consequences."
It requires close "coordination between our military and intelligence services to prevent anything that might affect our security, the movement of persons, arms and drugs trafficking, terrorism and human trafficking," he said.
In December, Libya decided to close the country's borders with Algeria, Niger, Chad and Sudan, decreeing the oil-rich south a military zone, in a move seen by analysts as a response to the crisis in Mali.
The Libyan conflict that ousted Moamer Gathafi in 2011 saw arms and fighters scattered across the region, notably to Mali, where Islamist militants have occupied the north.
At the same time, southern Libya has been plagued by unrest.
In his remarks to France 24, Marzouki gave a guarded response when asked to comment on the French military intervention in Mali.
"The situation is so complex. Of course we would have preferred a politically negotiated solution," he said.
Mali has been in turmoil since three Islamist groups, among them Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, seized control of the country's north after a coup in March.
Backed by French air power, Mali unleashed a counter-attack against the Islamists this week, recapturing a town lost to the rebels as they advanced south from their northern strongholds.