Rivals agree to form interim government ahead of July 18 vote

Political rivals in Mauritania have agreed on a path toward reconciliation and forming a new transitional government, according to a mediator on Friday. Elections have been scheduled for July 18.


AFP - Rivals in Mauritania have agreed on a way to overcome all the obstacles to a political settlement and achieve a new transitional government, a mediator, Habib Kabachi, said Friday.

"There is agreement on all points," said Habib Kabachi said after talks in the capital Nouakchott, adding that the new interim government for the west African nation could even be set up during the course of the day.

International mediators have been working to resolve a crisis that erupted in the large country on the western edge of the Sahara with a military coup in August last year, when Mauritania's first democratically elected president was toppled by a junta.

"We're working on the organisation this afternoon of an official signing ceremony for a decree on the constitution of the government and the voluntary resignation of (ousted) president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi," he said.

Both these points were covered in a settlement signed in Dakar, Senegal, on June 4, but they could not be implemented because Ould Cheikh Abdallahi refused to step down without the dissolution of the junta that toppled him last August 6.

"The High Council of State (the junta) will become a national defence council under the authority of the transitional government," said Kabachi, who is the envoy of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and who was speaking in the name of an international contact group on Mauritania.

"Elections will be held on July 18, everybody agrees on that, with the unreserved agreement and commitment of the international community," he said.

Kabachi's announcement came just after talks between Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade, who is the chief mediator, and the former head of the junta, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who has resigned in order to run for the presidency.

From Sunday to Tuesday, discussions between Mauritian delegations stalled in Dakar on the status of the junta before an election is held.

Mediators had proposed that the junta change its name and keep its current membership, but reduce its power to cover only defence and security, under the authority of a transitional government. The junta refused until the announced breakthrough.

Wade also had talks with Ould Cheikh Abdallahi before progress was announced on Friday.

But any breakthrough is accompanied by concerns on the security front.

On Friday, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for this week's murder of an American teacher in the Mauritanian capital, US-based monitoring group SITE Intelligence said on Friday.

Christopher Logest was shot several times from close range after he resisted an apparent kidnap attempt on Tuesday, a witness told AFP, after the shooting outside a private language and computer school run by the American.

The Al-Qaeda statement called him guilty of "the crime of missionary in the land of Muslims."

It urged Mauritanians to "take up the Jihad (holy war)" against "crusaders" in Mauritania and to support AQIM, which emerged from an Algerian Islamic extremist group and is operating in several Saharan and Sahel nations.

At the end of 2007, four French people were killed at Aleg, 250 kilometres (150 miles) east of Nouakchott. Three young Mauritanians suspected of being close to AQIM are in detention, awaiting trial for these murders.

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