Mauritania and Algeria have called for dialogue in a bid to reach a political solution to the six-month-old crisis in neighbouring Mali, after ruling out sending troops there to battle Islamist militia.
“Both countries agree on the importance of dialogue for the emergence of political solutions to the crisis in Mali,” Abdelkader Messahel, Algeria's minister for Maghreb and African affairs, said in Nouakchott late on Sunday.
After a meeting with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, Messahel also said however that both countries were also committed to stamping out extremists in the region.
“We are in favour of the fight against terrorism and organised crime by all means and at the same time support dialogue to bring about political solutions,” he said.
Mali has been effectively split into two since late March, when Islamist groups with ties to al-Qaeda conquered the north on the back of a rebellion by secular Tuareg rebels who they soon overpowered.
The Islamists have since enforced an extreme form of sharia law and fuelled fears in the region and beyond that northern Mali could become a new global sanctuary for jihadi fighters.
The common influence among the fundamentalist armed groups ruling northern Mali is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which originated in Algeria and is active in several of regional countries including Mauritania.
Several of those groups have also been involved in a lucrative drug trafficking business feeding the European market, as well as smuggling and kidnapping for ransom.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has a force of more than 3 000 on standby to help the ailing government in Bamako begin its reconquest of the north.
The deployment still needs to be approved by the UN Security Council and it could be months before military operations begin.
Algeria, by far the dominant military power in the region, has refused ruled out contributing troops for the force, as has Mauritania.
Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, the lead mediator in the crisis, promised Sunday that he would set up a “dialogue framework” for talks with Mali's rebels.