Mali: Camatte Released, Algeria Recalls Ambassador

Mali’s release of four AQIM combatants resulted in the release of Pierre Camatte, a Frenchman held by AQIM since December.

Algiers, Algeria

While France was overjoyed, Mali’s neighbors are not. Mauritania recalled its ambassador from Mali on Tuesday in protest at the release of the AQIM members. Algeria has now done the same; two of the released men are Algerians.

The four [militants] had been apprehended by Mali’s army in April 2009, in possession of weapons including machine guns and a rocket launcher, according to the prosecution. They were convicted on weapons charges – not on terror-related charges, which would have brought a minimum five-year sentence.

Algeria’s Foreign Ministry said it “forcefully condemned and denounced the decision,” which it described as “unfriendly.” A ministry statement said Algeria was recalling its ambassador for consultations.

Algeria, which had asked for the extradition of its citizens, said the Malian decision treated the nations’ bilateral judicial treaty with “disdain.” It also said the decision to release the men after such a short time behind bars was “a dangerous development for security and stability” in the region.

Commenter Tidinit argues that Mali followed the right course in freeing the men to save Camatte’s life. I am glad Camatte was freed too. Clearly, though, Mali’s decision has produced a regional backlash, potentially harming the chances for multinational counterterrorism cooperation in the Sahel. I will be keen to see how long this backlash lasts, and what the consequences of this release will be. Will an “emboldened” AQIM commit more kidnappings and attacks? What fate will befall the Spanish aid workers who are still being held? And how will France, Mali, and the other nations involved craft new strategies for dealing with these problems, whether together or in isolation?

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12 thoughts on “Mali: Camatte Released, Algeria Recalls Ambassador

  1. Alex-

    I wanted to respond briefly to Tidinit. I understand both the moral and political dilemnas Mali faced in the lead-up to this decision. Multiple visits and threats and visits from French officials clearly made a difference, and it is difficult to argue that measures should not have been taken to spare M. Camatte’s life, especially when AQIM has killed in the past.

    That said, the pattern of negotiating with AQIM will have a negative impact on multiple levels. While it is open to debate whether or not AQIM will attempt more kidnappings after that they’ve been paid, the organization now possesses an undisclosed sum of money and their four colleagues. That’s no good.

    In addition to potentially emboldening AQIM, there is also the issue of non-affiliated groups that cooperate with AQIM on kidnapping, trafficking, etc…If there is money to be made here, even if AQIM is not capable of kidnapping more people, these groups might do what they did with the Spanish aid workers, and start kidnapping more people and seeling them for a fee. So the danger increases for Westerners in the Sahel on multiple fronts.

    This, coupled with what you said about the increased difficulty in formulating a coherent sahelian CT policy, means that this decision is likely to negatively impact the region in the long run.

    -Andrew

    • Andrew, thanks for weighing in. I was hoping that someone would make this argument, and you make it very well.

      Let me try and take the conversation a step further, because I want to see what everyone will say. I am thinking now that the incentives for one government, especially when there is no consistent regional cooperation, and when France is leaning on them, point toward negotiating with AQIM to obtain the release of hostages. Taking your and Tidinit’s points together, then, it seems to me that one of the worst things about the situation is that any given country’s short-term interests are at odds with the region’s long-term interests.

      The dilemma of acceding to AQIM demands vs. having hostages die is likely not going away, and given the pattern so far it seems most times the outcome will be the former (though maybe the British have a different approach, as they did refuse the demands before the execution of Edwin Dyer last summer). The key then to me is not what way a government takes out of that dilemma, but preventing the dilemma in the first place. I am glad Camatte is alive, but I think you are right that the overall picture is now worse. The key then would be for Sahelian governments to really work together and tackle the problem on a political, military, and economic level. Unfortunately I don’t think that will happen any time soon.

  2. Tidinit is quite right on this.

    What’s more interesting here, to me, is that the Malian government is getting the blame. Who paid these huge ransoms for the past hostages, allowing the AQIM cells to pay common criminals to kidnap and deliver people to them? Well the funds were, in several cases, said to have come through Burkina and disbursed to Malian interlocutors. But the money clearly came from France/Italy/Germany/UK/Spain.

    It’s a bit rich, especially coming from Algeria whose nationals are holding the hostages, to blame Mali for this.

    In fact, if no money did change hands this time (as they claim) this is an improvement. The early kidnappings were tourists alone out deep in the Sahara. If you’ve seen the Al Jazeera footage of the cell in Mauritania, corroborated by Camatte’s description, these are a handful of professional foreign jihadists with a bunch of 17 year old wayward rural talibes who they’ve dressed up in homespun Pakistani garb and given guns. There’s no way most of these guys could go into Menaka or Kidal and kidnap people without getting caught. Except that they have lotsa cash now to pay others to do it. Mali would be better served voting in a new President (who won’t be better, just with a different patronage network) and cracking down on corruption in national and regional administration. Algeria and Mauritania would be better served solving their own political contradictions of the past 30 years of undemocratic rule which breeds this kind of extremism.

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