|05ALGIERS1771||2005-08-22 12:00:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Algiers|
1. (C) At a dinner hosted by the Saudi Defense Attache
August 20, DCM was seated facing former Algerian CHOD General
Mohammed Lamari, who retired one year ago. The Tunisian and
Moroccan attaches were seated at the same table. Lamari
began reminiscing about the war of independence from France,
describing in some detail the two electrified barbed wire
fences with minefields in between that the French constructed
in the 1950s along hundreds of kilometers of Algeria's
frontiers with both Morocco and Tunisia. Lamari described
how the Algerian independence fighters learned to breach the
barriers, noting that after independence, Algeria wanted to
preserve sections of the fences as a monument to the
thousands who died trying to cross them. However, the
government's intentions had been undercut by simple farmers
who dismantled the fences and minefields on their own in
order to sell or use the barbed wire and explosive charges.
Lamari said that although hundreds of farmers died trying to
dismantle the French mines, their deaths did not dissuade
others. Now nothing was left of the French barriers except
for a small display in the Algiers Military Museum.
2. (C) Having raised the Moroccan border issue in the
context of the war of independence, Lamari segued to
smuggling along the border today. He complained that
although the border has been closed since 1994, Moroccans
smuggled large quantities of drugs into Algeria. Originally
the drug trade had been intended for European markets, but in
the last few years, Algeria had become a consumer of
Moroccan-produced drugs as well. Lamari said that at one
time, Algerian soldiers had shoot-on-sight orders along the
Moroccan border, since, he argued, it was impossible to
distinguish smugglers from terrorists. The Army had changed
this approach, however, since they found they were shooting
simple smugglers. Lamari charged that cannabis cultivation
in Morocco was tolerated by the Moroccan government.
3. (C) At this point, the Moroccan DATT, who had been
listening without comment, objected, saying that cannabis
cultivation was not only illegal in Morocco but the
government had recently increased the legal penalties. The
problem was that the northern Rif area of Morocco was densely
forested mountains and it was very difficult for the police
to eradicate the cannabis crops. Furthermore, smuggling
networks were operated on both sides of the border, as
partnerships between Moroccan and Algerian smugglers.
Without conceding his point about Morocco's tolerance of
cultivation, Lamari agreed it was true that the smuggling
networks operated on both sides of the frontier.
4. (C) Indicating some frustration, Lamari commented that
the Algerian police only arrested small-time dealers involved
in the growing narcotics trade. "We know who the big heads
are," he said, "but we cannot arrest them." Although Lamari
added that was because the courts could not link the big
dealers directly to the drug trade, it was evident from his
tone that Lamari felt the big drug lords enjoyed political
protection of some kind.
5. (C) Both sides engage in regular cross-border activity.
The Moroccan Ambassador has told us that Moroccan beach
hotels in the Oujda area are full of Algerians, that
Moroccans and Algerians cross the border every day in large
numbers, in full view of the border police, and that there
are set "fees" for the crossing, depending on whether one is
on foot, in a taxi, or in a private vehicle. One of our
FSNs, asked by Ambassador how his vacation went, replied they
had a great time in Morocco and "there was no trouble at all
in crossing the border."
6. (C) General Lamari has lost a great deal of weight,
perhaps as much as 100 pounds, and looked much healthier than
he had when he was still on active duty. Although he chain
smoked throughout dinner, he commented that he had reduced
his smoking from six to two packs a day.