H.E. ABDELHAMID CHEBCHOUB, Algerian Ambassador to Serbia: Many Opportunities for Closer Cooperation

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Algeria and Serbia have very good bilateral relations, which have been boosted of late by a significant surge in economic cooperation, albeit from a modest base. Furthermore, sustained political dialogue on international issues of common interest further invigorates the long-standing friendship forged 55 years ago

The friendship between the then Yugoslavia and Algeria was forged 55 years ago, but of late it has been strengthened in terms of political dialogue, economic cooperation and the exploration of new avenues of collaboration, such as agriculture, the energy sector and tourism. Furthermore, thanks to the President of the Republic of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Serbian companies have gained the opportunity to position themselves on the Algerian market and managed to win several important contracts for the realisation of major projects. We spoke with H.E. Abdelhamid Chebchoub, Ambassador of Algeria, about the prospects of even better relations between two countries, as well as some geopolitical issues like terrorism and expertise in fighting terrorism, for which Algeria has been widely recognised.

How would you rate relations between Serbia and Algeria?

Relations between Algeria and Serbia are based on the friendship woven between the two peoples during the National Liberation War led by the Algerian people, who found multidimensional support for their cause in the former Yugoslavia. Today, as we celebrate the 55th anniversary of an independence gained on 5th July 1962, at the price of heavy sacrifices, I should pay tribute to President Tito and all the peoples of the former Yugoslavia for their solidarity and support for the struggle waged by the Algerians against colonialism, but also for their contribution to the developmental efforts undertaken by Algeria since the very first years of its independence. Economic cooperation between Algeria and Serbia in several fields, as well as a sustained political dialogue on international issues of common interest, has been built on the basis of that friendship, which our countries have managed to preserve throughout all these years. The visit of Tomislav Nikolić, then President of the Republic of Serbia, to Algeria in May 2016, as the first visit since the establishing of the Republic of Serbia, confirmed the dynamics of the strengthening of this relationship, which was decided by the highest authorities of our two countries.

How developed are external trade relations between Serbia and Algeria?

Trade between our countries is currently below the quality of our political relations, on the one hand, and their real potential, on the other. It is true that the political and economic transitions experienced by both countries during the 1990s, as well as the periods of turmoil they faced at that time, led to the stagnation of our external trade compared to the volume and diversity of Algeria’s relations with the former Yugoslavia. Since 2000, however, positive trends in external trade have been observed again. It has tripled in the past three years, increasing from around $20 million in 2013 to almost $60 million in 2016. The bilateral agreements that have been signed in several fields in the meantime have paved the way for the resumption of activities. Large development projects launched by President Bouteflika were an opportunity for Serbian companies to position themselves on the Algerian market and to win several important contracts for the realisation of major projects.

In your opinion, which areas of cooperation can be explored by economic operators from the two countries?

Looking at the geographical locations of our countries, their economic potential and development policies, we can identify several areas of cooperation to be further explored by economic operators. In the first place is agriculture: Serbia has knowhow in intensive farming that Algeria, which embarked on large agricultural projects recently, could benefit from, particularly in the field of water resources and the organisation of export chains. We can also explore opportunities for cooperation in the energy field, where Algeria has extensive expertise – not only with its gas and oil resources, but also in the field of renewable energy. Tourism is another promising area. Algeria has launched an extensive programme to develop this sector, which Serbian operators are welcome to contribute to. There is genuine potential to develop the flow of tourists between the two countries. Other sectors to be mentioned are sports and culture. Moreover, both countries have potential enabling them either to develop trade or establish partnerships and look to broadening their horizons through Algeria, the door to the Mediterranean, Africa and the Arab world.

Military cooperation between Algeria and Serbia has an important place in relations between the two countries. Are you satisfied with the dynamics of this cooperation?

Military cooperation indeed occupies a significant place in our relations. It is evolving continuously and in a satisfactory manner. It covers a range of domains, from the military industry to training and the exchange of experience. It is subject to periodic evaluations by a Joint Military Commission, which reviews the state of affairs and the implementation modalities, with a view to strengthening and diversifying it further.

How important today are the issues of terrorism, security and cooperation in security, in the bilateral context?

Algeria, which has suffered from this scourge and fought it singlehandedly, while the rest of the world has showed nothing but indifference, has never stopped raising awareness among the international community about the criminal and cross-border nature of this phenomenon, and the need for the joint mobilisation of all countries to fight it. Algeria has pioneered action in this field. And we can say that we have succeeded, because today there is international awareness of the criminal nature of terrorism and the need for international cooperation to deal with it. The latest terror attacks have once again confirmed the relevance of Algerian analysis and positions. Counter terrorism solidarity needs to be materialised through exchanges of information, the implementation of effective measures to drain terrorist groups’ sources of funding and to limit their movements across territories. It must also be effective in fighting arms and drug trafficking. All these actions must be accompanied by framing religious discourse and promoting values of peace, tolerance and understanding between the religions and cultures that comprise humanity. It is this vision and expertise in fighting terrorism, which Algeria has been widely acknowledged for today, that we wish to share with Serbia and all other countries. In this context, several cooperation agreements in the field of fighting organised crime and terrorism, as well as in the judicial field, have been drafted and are in the process of being finalised, and we hope to materialise them in the near future.

What role does Algeria play in the context of the tension that is affecting your region?

Algeria, as a central country of the Maghreb, with historical ties with the countries in its immediate neighbourhood, embedded in its Arab and African affiliations, enjoys the trust and respect of the international community and has always mobilised its diplomacy in the service of maintaining the peace and stability of the region. As regards to Mali, at the request of the authorities of that country, President Bouteflika initiated a crisis settlement process, known as the Algiers Process, which resulted in the signing of the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation on 25th May 2015, which was welcomed by the whole international community. Regarding Libya, Algeria is continuing its efforts to convince its Libyan brothers to adhere to a process of resolving the crisis through dialogue between all parties that accept the principles of a peaceful settlement and reject violence, respect the territorial integrity of Libya and are opposed to foreign intervention.

How would you assess the situation in Syria and the Middle East generally, and their geopolitical consequences?

As I have said, Algeria always pleads for a peaceful settlement of crises by means of negotiations and inclusive dialogue between all the actors without any foreign interference. This has been Algeria’s position as well since the outset of the crisis in Syria in 2011. Algeria was member of the ministerial committee of the Arab League tasked to find a solution to the crisis in Syria together with Qatar, Sudan, Egypt and Oman. Algeria has spared no effort to search for a peaceful solution to this crisis. It has consistently advocated in favour of dialogue, the cessation of violence and reconciliation among Syrians, who must freely decide on the future of their country and the shape of its institutions. The relevance of the Algerian position and the accuracy of our approach were subsequently acknowledged by the international community, which attempted to promote dialogue within the framework of Geneva discussions. We remain hopeful that Syrians will come together around the negotiating table to find a solution to the war that has resulted in so many victims and so much destruction. Just like we remain convinced that the inclusive dialogue, while respecting the sovereignty of States and the principles of international law, is the only way to resolve crises.

Given that you have been living in Serbia for two years now, do you think Algeria is well known among the Serbian people, or is your country still a big unknown here?

In order to answer this question I think one needs to differentiate between two generations of Serbian people: the one which was born or grew up during the time of the former Yugoslavia, which got to know Algeria through the privileged relationship that President Tito had with Algeria from the time of the National Liberation War. This generation is very well acquainted with Algeria and continues to demonstrate strong friendship and deep respect for the country. The second generation, especially the youngest ones, does not have the same perception. They have limited knowledge of our country, but are very interested in discovering and visiting it. We have witnessed this interest at exhibitions and/or cultural events organised by the Embassy. The human component of the Association of Friends of Algeria, comprising predominantly young Serbs, is proof of that. I use this opportunity to praise their commitment to strengthening relations between our two countries. I would also like to take the opportunity provided by Diplomacy&Commerce to once again call on operators in the field of travel and tourism, as well as those in charge of the tourism sector in both countries, to explore this avenue, thus enabling the youth of our countries to meet and get to know each other. The development of tourism will certainly bring our two peoples closer together and contribute to the preservation of a friendship forged more than sixty years ago

SAHARAWI PEOPLE HAVE A RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION

How do you comment of the issue of Western Sahara?

Relating to the Western Sahara, in our view, which is also shared by the international community, the Western Sahara is a non-self-governing territory, listed as such by the United Nations, and it is therefore up to the United Nations to implement its doctrine and principles pertinent to this issue, and to enforce the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination and independence in accordance with international law.

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