By Salim Yunusa
The diplomatic discord between Algeria and France deepened Sunday after Algiers banned French military planes from its airspace, its latest response to a row over visas and critical comments from President Emmanuel Macron.
France’s jets regularly fly over the former French colony to reach the Sahel region of western Africa, where its soldiers are helping to battle jihadist insurgents as part of its Barkhane operation.
“This morning when we filed flight plans for two planes, we learned that the Algerians had stopped flights over their territory by French military planes,” an army spokesman, Colonel Pascal Ianni, told AFP.
He said the decision had “slightly impacted” supply flights but “does not affect our operations” in the Sahel.
But the move heightened tensions that had already flared Saturday when the Algerian government recalled its ambassador to France, citing “inadmissible interference” in its affairs.Algeria decided Saturday to recall its ambassador to France for consultations, as diplomatic tensions mount with Paris.
The move comes after France’s President Emmanuel Macron made critical remarks about Algeria published in French daily Le Monde in which he said the former French colony was ruled by a “political-military system.”
“Algeria recalls its ambassador (Mohamed Antar-Daoud) from Paris for consultations,” state television said, quoting a statement from the presidency.
It said a longer statement would follow to explain the move.
Le Monde on Saturday quoted Macron as saying Algeria has an “official history” which has been “totally re-written.”
He said this history was “not based on truths” but “on a discourse of hatred towards France”, according to Le Monde.
The remarks, widely picked up by Algerian media, came in a meeting earlier this week between Macron and relatives of figures from Algeria’s war of independence.
It is the second time that Algeria recalls an ambassador from France.
Algiers also recalled its ambassador in May 2020 after French media broadcast a documentary about Algeria’s pro-democracy Hirak protest movement.
Saturday’s move comes amid tense ties following a decision by Paris to reduce the number of visas granted to citizens from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.
The Algerian foreign ministry summoned the French ambassador on Wednesday to protest the visa ruling.
France on Tuesday said it would sharply reduce the number of visas granted to people from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, accusing the former French colonies of not doing enough to allow illegal immigrants to return.
Algeria’s foreign ministry handed “a formal protest” to French ambassador Francois Gouyette.
It called the visa reduction an “unfortunate act” that caused “confusion and ambiguity as to its motivation and its scope.”
Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita has described the French move as “unjustified.”
There has not been yet an official reaction from Tunisia.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told Europe 1 radio on Tuesday that the visa reduction decision was “unprecedented.”
Paris made that choice, he said, because Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia “are refusing to take back nationals who we do not want or cannot keep in France.”
(AP & AlJazeera)
The radio said Macron took the decision a month ago after failed diplomatic efforts with the three North African countries