Algeria's Sonatrach vows Mali oil drilling by mid 2012

BAMAKO Wed Oct 26, 2011 9:08am EDT

BAMAKO Oct 26 (Reuters) - Algerian state energy group Sonatrach will start long-awaited drilling for oil in Mali's section of the Taoudeni Basin by mid-2012, the company's managing director said on Malian state radio.

Sonatrach signed a deal for oil exploration in Mali in 2007, but progress has been slow in the basin, which straddles Mali, Algeria and Mauritania. The area is overrun by gunmen, some of whom are linked to al Qaeda.

"I can confirm that we have been working to ensure that the (first) well will be drilled before the end of the first semester of 2012," Sonatrach Managing Director Nourdine Cherouati said on Malian state radio on Wednesday.

The statement followed a visit this week to Algeria by Mali's President Amadou Toumani Toure.

Algeria is a major energy producer and has long planned to work with Mali, its southern neighbour, to develop potential oil resources.

But relations between the states have been strained in recent years due to the rising influence of Islamists in the Sahara-Sahel region.

Analysts say Mali's weak control and alleged local corruption have allowed gunmen linked to al Qaeda to set up bases in the desert north.

Algeria has frequently accused Bamako of being too soft on the fighters, who have made millions of dollars from ransom payments for kidnapped foreigners and attacked regional security forces. (Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by David Lewis, editing by Jane Baird)

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