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Rumsfeld on 3-nation Tour to North Africa
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US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Sunday Washington intended to deepen its military and counter-terrorism ties with Algeria, but avoided saying whether this was dependent on Algerian political reforms.

"We look forward to strengthening our military-to-military relationship and our co-operation in counter-terrorism," Rumsfeld said during a joint appearance with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika at the presidential palace in Algiers.

His 5-and-half-hours visit to Algeria was part of a three-day, three-nation tour designed to show US support for moderate North Africa countries amid worries about Islamic extremism. He arrived from Tunisia and was due next in Morocco.

Asked whether the United States would make military co-operation with Algeria contingent on political progress in the country, Rumsfeld declined to answer directly.

"The United States and Algeria have a multi-faceted relationship. It involves political and economic as well as military-to-military co-operation. And we very much value the co-operation we are receiving in counter-terrorism because it's important to both of our countries."

Rumsfeld met Bouteflika for 95 minutes after meeting the prime minister and defence minister.

The United States and Algeria, the second biggest country in Africa, began military exchanges last year as Washington sought backing for its campaign against global terrorism.

The United States regards the three countries Rumsfeld is visiting as moderate forces in the region and important allies.

Algeria and neighboring Morocco have much history and cultural heritage in common but have had tense relations, particularly over Western Sahara.

Morocco, which annexed Western Sahara in 1975 when former colonial power Spain pulled out, fought a guerrilla war with the Polisario Front which is based in southwestern Algeria and is seeking the desert territory's independence.

A senior US defence official travelling with Rumsfeld said the United States was trying to encourage regional co-operation between Algeria and Morocco, as well as Tunisia, but the Western Sahara dispute was a stumbling block.

The official said the United States was considering the possibility of military equipment sales to Algeria, but gave no details beyond saying these might involve equipment useful for counter-terrorism.

(China Daily February 13, 2006)


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