* Death of preachers will complicate ties between neighbours
* Mauritania key to regional fight against al Qaeda
* Must also accommodate interests of own Islamist groups
NOUAKCHOTT, Sept 10 Mauritania called the
killing 16 Muslim preachers by Mali's army a barbaric act
carried out in cold blood and demanded to be part of any
investigation into the incident.
The killing at the weekend of eight Mauritanians and eight
Malians creates a diplomatic crisis at a time when regional
leaders are struggling to agree on a strategy to regain control
of Mali's north from Islamists, including al Qaeda fighters.
"The government ... expresses its indignation at this
unspeakable criminal act, committed in cold blood, without any
warning ... against preachers who had no weapons but their faith
and were coming with a message of peace," a statement carried by
state news agency AMI said late on Sunday.
Mauritania's statement accused Malian army units of a
"barbaric massacre" of peaceful Muslim preachers travelling to
Bamako. Religious leaders in the Malian capital said the
preachers were going to a conference there.
Those killed are believed to be from the Dawa movement,
which preaches a fundamentalist ideology but does not advocate
violence. Iyad ag Ghali, one of leaders of the Islamist groups
in northern Mali, is a former member of Dawa and he has been
criticised by many of its members for the rebellion.
A military officer said soldiers had opened fire
pre-emptively to ward off a possible ambush. The Malian
government has ordered an investigation.
One of the Islamist groups in Mali's north said the killing
was a declaration of war.
"(The government) demands the swift opening of an
independent investigation in order to establish the facts of
this odious crime, identify those responsible and bring them to
justice ... (we) would like to be part of this investigation,"
the Mauritanian statement said.
With one of West Africa's more effective armies, Mauritania
has been one of the West's strongest allies in the fight against
al Qaeda in the region and is expected to be part of any joint
effort to wrest control of the north from the Islamists.
However, as an Islamic republic straddling black and Arab
Africa, it must also juggle the interests of influential and
often critical domestic Islamist groups.
Dozens of people gathered on Monday morning outside the
Mauritanian president's office condemning the incident.