Despite periodic attempts at regional coordination in the Sahel and North Africa on issues of terrorism, Sahelian governments are not always on the same page when it comes to dealing with AQIM.
On Sunday, Mali freed four “Al Qaeda combatants,” meeting a demand made by kidnappers holding Pierre Camatte, a Frenchman. AQIM also holds three Spanish aid workers kidnapped in Mauritania in December.
Mali felt they had “to do everything we could to save the life of the Frenchman,” but Mauritania’s government expressed strong displeasure at the move, and recalled its ambassador from Bamako.
The release of the prisoners prompted anger in Nouakchott, where the foreign ministry said the move was “surprising”, given that one of those released is wanted in Mauritania.
“Mauritania, while expressing its condemnation and rejection of this measure, has decided to recall its ambassador to Bamako for consultation,” Mauritania’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
“This non-cordial measure taken by the Malian authorities harms age-old relations between the two countries.
“Above all it’s a flagrant contradiction of judicial cooperation accords and security coordination agreements,” between the neighbours, the ministry said.
Mauritanian authorities argued that Mali should have handed over at least one of the prisoners in question rather than freeing him.
Is Mali in the wrong? Abandoning Camatte to execution would be a weighty move; I personally would be extremely reluctant to do so. But Mauritania has strong arguments on its side; I do not know enough to evaluate the legal context, but one might certainly contend that freeing AQIM fighters will in the long run exacerbate problems of kidnapping and violence, not solve them.
The biggest challenge for regional counterterrorism strategies, though, appears to be the lack of coordination between governments. Whatever strategy they adopt, it would be more effective if they adopted it together.