Britain, Algeria strike security deal after desert bloodbath

ALGIERS (AFP) - British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Algeria on Wednesday to strike an new security partnership between the two countries following the deadly hostage crisis at a Sahara Desert gas plant.

His visit comes less than two weeks after 37 foreign hostages, including six Britons, were killed when Islamists stormed the In Amenas facility.

Mr Cameron was greeted by Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and also had talks with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Mr Cameron and Mr Bouteflika agreed a new strategic partnership bringing together senior security, military and intelligence advisors to help each other respond to emerging threats.

The two countries will exchange information on border and aviation security, countering improvised explosive devices and tackling extremist ideology and propaganda.

London and Algiers will also work together to combat threats to stability in north Africa. The first talks between experts are to take place within the coming months.

"When terrorism grows up in different parts of the world, it damages our people and our interests in those parts of the world but also back at home as well," Mr Cameron told reporters.

"The terrorism threat that we face from Al-Qaeda in parts of Pakistan, in Yemen, in Somalia is clearly more of a threat than the Al-Qaeda terrorism that is growing in Mali.

"But because it is growing, we shouldn't ignore it, we should work with partners to try to combat it."

French troops are driving Islamists forces from the bases in northern Mali, Algeria's southwestern neighbour, but Britain has ruled out getting involved in another Iraq- or Afghanistan-style campaign.

However, London said on Tuesday it would deploy more than 300 military personnel in non-combat training and air support roles to help the French-led military operation.

"We have learnt the lessons of the past - that these problems are not dealable with through purely military or security means alone," Mr Cameron said.

"We need a combination of a tough security response but also working with international partners, using our diplomacy, using our aid budget, using all of the things at our disposal - including seeking political settlements to some of the underlying grievances on which terrorists thrive."

Mr Cameron, whose visit ends on Thursday, is accompanied by his national security adviser and a trade envoy, Downing Street said. British reports said the head of the country's foreign intelligence service MI6 was also on the trip.

Mr Cameron said six Britons and a Colombian normally resident in Britain were among 37 foreign hostages killed when gunmen earlier this month stormed the In Amenas gas plant and the Algerian army launched a military assault in response.

One Algerian and 29 of the insurgents were also killed.

Britain expressed concern after the hostage crisis erupted that London had not been consulted before the Algerian authorities launched their military operation.

The visit was "part of efforts to lead a coordinated international response to the evolving threat from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which is operating from parts of the Sahel region," said Mr Cameron's spokeswoman. "We want to stand side-by-side with countries in the region working together to overcome the threat."

After his arrival, Mr Cameron placed flowers at the monument to martyrs of the Algerian war of independence at El Madania, overlooking the capital.

Mr Cameron is in Algeria en route to Liberia, where he will co-chair an international development conference on Friday.

His visit to Algeria was the first by a British premier since the country won independence from France in 1962.

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