Mali and Mauritania agree to cooperate in fight against terrorism
NOUAKCHOTT - The leaders of Mali and Mauritania on Sunday signed an accord to boost military cooperation and information sharing in the battle against "armed groups or terrorists" plaguing the West African neighbours.
Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, elected in August 2013 after months of turbulence in which Islamists seized the northern half of his country, signed the deal on a state visit to Nouakchott.
He and his Mauritanian counterpart Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz "agreed not to tolerate the presence of any armed or terrorist group that could potentially destabilise" either country, according to a joint statement.
They also agreed to boost cooperation between their armed forces with "periodic meetings, the regular exchange of information and close consultations."
The two Sahel nations are both threatened by armed groups including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is involved in kidnappings for ransom, arms and drug trafficking and attacks.
AQIM was one of the groups which spearheaded the Islamic takeover of northern Mali for nine months in 2012, installing a brutal version of sharia law in cities under the control of extremist groups.
The Islamists were driven out by a French-led military intervention launched last January, but continue to infest the vast northern desert, launching sporadic but deadly attacks on Malian troops and United Nations peacekeepers.
Mauritania's Aziz has actively fought AQIM's presence in the region, and his troops launched raids on their bases in Mali in 2010 and 2011.
The two leaders also called for "greater cooperation between all Sahel-Saharan countries to coordinate operations in the fight against armed terrorists, drug traffickers and illicit smuggling."