The recent attack (1 May) by Polisario guerrillas on a remote mining town in Mauritania in which a French doctor and his wife were killed, and six French nationals were kidnapped, has provoked a sudden deterioration in relations between France and Algeria, which backs the guerrillas.
The recent attack (1 May) by Polisario guerrillas on a remote mining town in Mauritania in which a French doctor and his wife were killed, and six French nationals were kidnapped, has provoked a sudden deterioration in relations between France and Algeria, which backs the guerrillas. On inspected the scene of the attack at Zouerate.
SYNOPSIS: The Mauritanian army put on a show of strength for his arrival. M.Galley met some of the remaining French nationals in Zouerate. More than half of them, mostly technicians attached to the mine, have accepted the Mauritanian mining company's offer of evacuation.
The Polisario attack was the first on a mining town and the first on Mauritania in which foreign nationals were killed. French evacuees said the raid went unchecked for two hours before Mauritanian troops intervened. The guerrillas claim they killed 65 Mauritanian soldiers.
The raid was an indication of the guerrillas' power to disrupt the Mauritanian economy, which relies heavily on iron ore revenues. Mining centres like Zouerate are prime targets. M. Galley said the security of foreigners, in particular French nationals working these was in the hands of the Mauritanian authorities. France would not interfere, he said.
The task faced by the Mauritanian army, which has to patrol a huge and virtually indefensible country, in enormous. The sector commander told journalists at Zouerate that the army was concerned not to do anything which could endanger the lives of the six French hostages. Mauritania was unprepared for the war, and has had to increase its forces from 3,000 to over 13,000 in under a year.
Air and ground patrols have established that the guerrillas have no bases in Mauritania, or the Mauritanian section of Western Sahara, the former Spanish colony handed over in 1976 to joint Mauritanian Moroccan administration. Morocco is said to be concerned at Mauritania's difficulties in containing the guerrillas, who are fighting for independence for Western Sahara, and has offered military aid. mauritania is reluctant to accept, however. Until seven years ago, Morocco claimed the whole of Mauritania as part of a Greater Morocco.
French-Algerian relations deteriorated after the guerilla raid, when French Foreign Minister Louis de Guiringaud said the attack had been carried out 'by forces from a neighbouring country' an obvious reference to Algeria, where many Polisario troops are trained and where they have headquarters. The French ambassador to Algiers was called to the Algerian Foreign Ministry for an explanation. The Polisario Front claimed later in statement from Algiers that in the raid they destroyed the power station at Zouerate and two aircraft, killed 60 Mauritanian soldiers and wounded 70. French evacuees from Zouerata said the guerillas spoke Spanish.