US Withholds Military Aid From Post-Coup Gov't in Mauritania

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Nairobi ( - Washington has pledged to work with the new government of Mauritania, despite condemning the military coup that bought it to power earlier this month.

Analysts here attribute the move to a U.S. desire to ensure that the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region continues.

The new government will not, however, receive $150 million in U.S. military
aid. It also will be expected to stick to its stated intention of holding democratic elections within the next two years.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the U.S. was "supportive" of the promise by the new authorities to demonstrate their commitment to a return of constitutional rule and lay out a good program for getting there.

"That's what the Africa Union is going to try to facilitate. And those are, frankly, the expectations of the international community."

The AU, which like the U.S. initially called for ousted president Maaouiya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya to be reinstated, also suspended Mauritania from participating in the bloc's activities.

But it subsequently sent a mission to Mauritania, and agreed to support the new administration as it implemented the return-to-democracy program.

Ereli said the AU mission had decided "to give the new rulers a chance to continue their work to fulfill the extremely significant commitments they made to restore a real democratic system."

A security advisor to the president, Colonel Ely Ould Mohammed Vall, staged the coup and promised to return the country to a democratic path.

The ousted regime in recent years became an important ally in the campaign against Islamist terror, becoming a key coordination base in West Africa.

It had helped U.S. counter terrorism activities, especially with regard to Algeria's al-Qaeda-aligned extremists operating near Mauritania's border with Algeria.

The new administration's willingness to work with the U.S. in the counter-terror field remains unclear. It did, however, release about 20 Islamists jailed by the former president, although others remain in prison.

Critics accused the former government of using a clampdown on Islamists as an excuse to stifle legitimate political dissent.

Justus Omondi, a former University of Nairobi academic now doing regional political consultancy work, said based on the new political circumstances in Mauritania, the U.S. response was the best action it could have taken.

"The coup presents a challenge for the U.S. to build new bridges with the new administration so that the anti-terror war being coordinated from that country can go on."

He said the release from prison of some Islamists likely unsettled the U.S., sending a message that the new government was not ready to cooperate against terrorists.

"The decision by the Americans to recognize the government there could be motivated by this action," Omondi said.

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