Britain and Algeria make progress on extradition

Britain and Algeria make progress on extradition

By Madeline Chambers, Reuters, Thu Feb 16, 2006

ALGIERS – Britain and Algeria have made progress on negotiating an extradition treaty to make it easier to deport terrorism suspects to the north African country, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Thursday.

Speaking on a visit to the oil-exporting nation, seen by Western countries as a major ally in the fight against terrorism, Straw told a news conference that Britain and Algeria wanted to sign an agreement « as soon as possible ».

« On the extradition treaty I think good progress has been made, » he said after talks with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Foreign Minister Mohamed Bedjaoui.

« I had a 2-1/2 hour meeting with President Bouteflika and I hope that symbolises the emerging strength and depth of relations between the United Kingdom and Republic of Algeria. »

Algerian officials say they are concerned about suspected cells of Islamist radicals among the estimated 20,000 Algerians living in Britain.

Under human rights laws, Britain needs guarantees from countries that deportees will not be mistreated at home. Judges have in the past blocked deportations on those grounds.

Britain’s ties to Algeria are on an upswing after a period in the 1990s marked by Algerian disapproval of British tolerance towards high-profile Islamist militants resident in London.

Critics say Britain’s long tradition of granting asylum to Middle East dissidents at risk of jail, torture or death in their own countries helped foster the emergence of a dangerously radical Islamist scene in London and other cities.

It was only after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001 that Britain clamped down on outspoken Islamist radicals who had for years been calling for holy war against the West.

London is also working on similar extradition agreements with several north African countries, including Morocco, to enable it to deport terrorism suspects to the region. It has already struck such agreements with Libya and Jordan.

Algeria is emerging from more than a decade of civil war in which more than 150,000 people were killed, mostly civilians.

An Islamist revolt began when the army in 1992 cancelled elections which the Islamic Salvation Front party was poised to win. The authorities feared an Iranian-style revolution.

Britain is keen to develop ties to Algeria, where it is the number one foreign investor largely thanks to spending of $4 billion (2.3 billion pounds) by energy major BP on oil and gas projects.

Algeria has amassed foreign reserves of $56 billion due in part to high world energy prices, attracting worldwide interest in trading with the country of 33 million. A delegation of senior British bankers visited last month to explore opportunities.

Straw said the two countries were working on an agreement on investor protection. « This (agreement) will do a great deal to enhance the confidence in the banking and financial system. »