French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and his Algerian counterpart Mourad Medelci said late on Sunday they were in broad agreement over resolving problems in crisis-hit Mali.
Fabius arrived in Algeria earlier on Sunday for his first official trip to an Arab country, with the instability in neighbouring Mali featuring high on the agenda after fighters linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) took over key northern cities.
“We found that we had exactly the same analysis and objectives concerning the Sahel and Mali,” Medelci told a joint press conference after the pair held a one-hour meeting.
“We agreed that the unity of Mali must be preserved and to say that the fight against terrorism must remain the priority.
“The military solution is not the right one. It is the political solution and dialogue that must prevail.”
Fabius said he agreed with Medelci's remarks and spoke of the terrorist threat in the Sahel region due to the establishment there of armed groups linked to terrorist networks and drug trafficking.
“This is a threat not only to the local populations but also for the region and the world,” he said.
Fabius added that he and the Algerian minister had “agreed on a number of subjects that we raised”, including the situation in Syria.
The two-day visit reflects “the importance that we attach to the relations between France and Algeria, relations that are distinguished by their depth and intensity”, French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said ahead of the trip.
Fabius is due to meet Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Monday.
“Paris expects the strong involvement of Algeria, as the main power in the region, in resolving the crisis in Mali and the insecurity in the Sahel,” Algerian newspaper El Watan said on Saturday.
Once a beacon of democracy in West Africa, Algeria's neighbour was thrown into chaos by a coup d'etat in March that allowed ethnic Tuareg separatists and Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists to sweep across northern Mali in a rapid offensive.
The takeover has stoked fears that Mali's north will become a new breeding ground for terrorism, with AQIM now wielding significant influence there.
The jihadists have ousted their Tuareg rivals, enforced Islamic law and destroyed ancient World Heritage sites they see as idolatrous.
Algeria played a role in mediating between Tuareg rebels and the Malian authorities in 2006, and many both within the region and beyond hope that the north African country will throw its weight behind a solution to the conflict in northern Mali.
A week before Fabius' arrival, Belgium's Foreign Minister Didier Reynders visited Algeria, and said after his trip that Mali's wealthy neighbour could “facilitate” a resolution to the crisis.
Since the start of the crisis across its southern border, Algeria has repeatedly backed diplomacy, while France openly favours intervention against the Islamists.
Fabius himself has said that the use of force was probable “sooner or later”, and that for AQIM and its allies France was “the main enemy”.
French President Francois Hollande said on Saturday that it was up to Africans to decide how and when to intervene militarily in northern Mali, while adding that France “must show solidarity”.
Liberte, another Algerian daily, said Sunday's visit by France's top diplomat would be “another opportunity to pressure Algeria into accepting the military option in Mali”.
It should also pave the way for a trip to the former French colony that Hollande is expected to make before the end of the year, according to the foreign ministry.
And it will “deepen the dialogue and mark the commitment of the two countries to building 'an exceptional partnership'“, according to Algerian news agency APS.
Algeria, which celebrated 50 years of independence from France earlier this month, has close but difficult relations with its former colonial ruler.
There was an improvement in economic ties under former president Nicolas Sarkozy, and much is anticipated on the political front with the election of France's new socialist leader in May.
About one million Algerians live in France, while about 24 000 French people reside in Algeria. - Sapa-AFP IOLSA