France says Algeria supportive of its Mali operation

PARIS Sun Jan 13, 2013 5:02pm EST

PARIS (Reuters) - Algeria has allowed France full use of its air space in its military intervention against Islamist rebels in Mali and is ready to seal its border if the conflict moves north, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Sunday.

Fabius said he was in regular contact with the government in Algeria, which had pushed for a political solution to the crisis in Mali over a military intervention, and was grateful it was being supportive of the operation.

"Algeria has authorized unlimited access to fly over its territory, something I thank the Algerian authorities for," Fabius told LCI television, as Rafale jets deployed from France pounded rebel strongholds in northern Mali.

"We talk regularly with Algeria. I must underline our collaboration, and what we envisage - although it's not for today - is that if the African troops move to the north, the Algerians would have to close their border," he said.

Algeria, which shares a 2,000 km (1,242 mile) border with Mali, has worried that a military offensive could push al Qaeda militants into southern Algeria and also trigger a refugee crisis if displaced Malian Tuaregs head north to Algeria.

A security source in Algeria familiar with the situation told Reuters he believed the border may already be closed.

Algeria, an influential regional power and a top oil and gas exporter, has pressed for a diplomatic solution for Mali rather than the intervention to be led by the West African ECOWAS bloc.

At the same time, Algiers has waged a long campaign against Islamist militants on its own territory, and the rebels in Mali hold three Algerian diplomats hostage.

Fabius said he would speak to the Malian prime minister on his return from a two-day visit to Algiers.

(Reporting by Catherine Bremer in Paris and Lamine Chikhi in Algiers; Editing by Will Waterman)

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