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US, Algeria Work to Improve Security in Maghreb, Sahel


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Algeria's Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra (R) before addressing a news conference at the Foreign Ministry in Algiers, April 3, 2014.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Algeria's Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra (R) before addressing a news conference at the Foreign Ministry in Algiers, April 3, 2014.

The United States and Algeria say they are working together to combat terrorism in North and West Africa by strengthening both security and economic opportunity. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra chair a strategic dialogue on military and commercial cooperation.

Secretary Kerry said the U.S. and Algeria were working to increase security coordination to fight drug trafficking and kidnapping-for-ransom that fund terrorism in North and West Africa.

"We want to do this so that Algerian security services have the tools and the training needed in order to defeat al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. And we will work to address the instability that has spread throughout the Maghreb and Sahel," he said.

He said Algerian efforts in Mali and Niger underscore its constructive role in regional stability.

There has been an increase in al-Qaida-affiliated violence across the region since the fall of Libyan leader Moammar Ghadafi in 2011.

African and French troops have fought Islamist extremists in neighboring Mali. There have been attacks in Niger, Tunisia and northern Nigeria, as well as last year's assault on a gas plant in Algeria in which more than 40 hostages were killed.

Foreign Minister Lamamra said Algeria would never back down from fighting terror and asked for U.S. help with electronic surveillance.

"The Sahel region has abruptly evolved into one of our preeminent concerns as terrorism, human trafficking, drug trafficking, and all kinds of criminal activities have woven their webs and built their networks in the region, threatening the stability and very existence of the people and states of the area," he said.

Lamamra said it was now a necessity to provide a decent future for the people of the region who are still facing "dire living conditions and harsh adversity."

"We need to join forces to help advance the emergence of stronger states in the Sahel and to develop impactful economic plans to foster the best conditions possible for both security and development," he said.

The foreign minister said this can be done by creating jobs, encouraging the growth of small business, and improving access to water and energy.

Kerry agreed, saying there must be alternatives for a growing population of young unemployed.

"We need to make sure that we can find jobs for these people, that their future is defined through education and opportunity and not through IED's and violence," he said.

Kerry said those offering violence did not offer jobs, education, health care or programs to pull a country together around a common identity.

"They destroy. And they tell people in a direct confrontation with modernity that everybody has to do what they say and live the way they tell them. We've been through these struggles for too long as common humanity to be cowed by that, intimidated by it, or ruled by it," he said.

Lamamra said Algeria was committed to making the Maghreb a integrated, peaceful, and prosperous region and will spare no effort in contributing to restoring stability and security.

That includes the disputed region of Western Sahara, where Algeria backs ethnic Sahrawi opposition to Moroccan rule, and where Lamamra said there must be greater autonomy.

"The right to self-determination of the Sahrawi people as well as the human rights, their human dignity for them to at last enjoy the blessings of a normal life and fulfill their God-given potential," said the foreign minister.

Kerry is expected to discuss Western Sahara in talks in Morocco Friday as well.

He said the United States looked forward to upcoming elections here in Algeria that are transparent and in line with international standards.

President Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika is running for another five-year term, but the 77-year-old's campaign is surrounded by questions about his failing health.
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