Algerian gas field site still volatile

2013-01-18 22:41
(Supplied)

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Algiers - Twelve hostages have been killed since the Algerian army launched an operation against al-Qaeda-linked militants who seized hundreds of people at a remote gas complex, a security official said on Friday.

 They apparently demanded a prisoner swap and an end to French military action in Mali.

"As well as the 18 terrorists who were killed, 12 Algerian and foreign workers died," said the official.

Reports said it was unclear how many foreigners were still either being held hostage or were missing inside the plant, but figures of between 20 and 30 were being mentioned.

As criticism mounted over the haste of an Algerian military assault on the Sahara desert site, a news agency said special forces had freed more than 670 hostages, among them 573 Algerians and about 100 foreigners.

Meanwhile nations with hostages in Algeria have reacted with muted anger to the North African country's decision to launch a military rescue mission without consultation.

Privately, diplomats are furious and frustrated, but experts said on Friday that their scope to react was limited by Algeria's importance as an anti-terrorist ally and major oil and gas producer.

Algerian special forces stormed a gas plant in eastern Algeria on Thursday to wipe out Islamist militants and free hostages from at least 10 countries.

 Several hostages and their captors were reported dead or injured, though numbers remained unclear.

The United States, Britain and other countries said they were not told in advance of the raid, which continued on Friday.

Japan summoned the Algerian ambassador for a dressing-down, and Britain said Prime Minister David Cameron had urged his Algerian counterpart to act with caution.

Negotiation

Cameron said on Friday that in several calls to Algerian premier Abdelmalek Sellal during the crisis, "I urged that we and other countries affected should be consulted before any action was taken" and offered "UK technical and intelligence support — including from experts in hostage negotiation and rescue."

The United States also offered hostage rescue teams, according to a senior US military official, but the offer was refused.

Experts said it was no surprise that battle-hardened Algeria — which threw off French rule in 1962 after years of war, and where some 200 000 people died in a 1990s conflict between the government and Islamist rebels — had decided to go it alone.

Cameron was careful to say Friday that Britain would "stand with the Algerians in their fight against these terrorist forces."

The attack is a worrying development in an unstable region. Militants have in the past kidnapped foreign tourists across North and West Africa, but diplomats said a large and sophisticated attack on a major energy installation marked a departure.

"There are many, many oil and gas installations in the Algerian desert and I am not aware of any serious occurrences previously for years," said Graham Hand, a former British ambassador to Algeria.



Read more on:    algeria  |  north africa
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