France warns Dakar organisers
|Thursday, January 3rd 2008, 16:15 GMT|
France has warned organisers of the Dakar rally against holding stages in Mauritania after four French tourists were killed there last month, government spokesman Laurent Wauquiez said on Thursday.
Three attackers, who authorities suspect are linked to Al Qaeda, gunned down four French tourists and injured a fifth as they enjoyed a Christmas Eve picnic by the roadside in the south of the country, near the border with Senegal.
Gunmen killed three soldiers three days later in the remote and sparsely populated north of the country, bordering Algeria and Morocco's breakaway territory of Western Sahara.
France has since advised its citizens not to travel to Mauritania because "the terrorist risk" cannot be ruled out.
The Dakar starts in Portugal on Saturday and is due to arrive in Mauritania on January 11.
"The organisers of the rally were informed of the risk assessment during a meeting at the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs," government spokesman Laurent Wauquiez told a news conference.
"The ministry strongly advises all French people against travelling to Mauritania until further notice. That goes for all French people, as well as for the organisation of the Lisbon-Dakar rally," he added.
Last month's separate attacks have shaken the peaceful West African country as it prepares to host part of the rally, which gives an annual boost to its nascent tourism industry.
A promise of 3,000 security personnel to ensure safe passage was enough for the rally's security chief, who has given the green light to its Mauritanian stages.
Stages originally due to be held last year in neighbouring Mali were cancelled after French security services cited a threat from Algerian rebels.
"The French government can only reiterate, with the greatest firmness, the advice given to travellers by the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs," Wauquiez said.