Bloodless coup threatens Mauritania's oil, gas industry

Mauritania's nascent oil and gas industry, already under threat from the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, is facing more uncertainty following a bloodless coup staged by Army commanders.

Eric Watkins
Senior Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 6 -- Mauritania's nascent oil and gas industry, already under threat from the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, is facing more uncertainty following a bloodless coup staged by Army commanders.

The coup began when President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi fired the country's top four military officials. According to reports, the officials had been suspected of supporting lawmakers who had accused the president of corruption and disagreed with his efforts to reach out to Islamic hard-liners.

Abdallahi was detained by presidential guard units and held against his will at the presidential palace compound. Meanwhile, a military junta, which took over state radio and television, announced the formation of a new "state council," led by Gen. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, one of the four generals fired earlier in the day.

A US spokesman issued a statement condemning "in the strongest possible terms" the Mauritanians' military's overthrow of the democratically elected government of Mauritania, while European Union Development Commissioner Louis Michel said the president should be quickly released and returned to his post.

In July, Malaysia's state-owned Petronas said it obtained positive results from its exploration program in Mauritania when a well drilled 2 km away from its original Banda-1 discovery confirmed the existence of "significant" quantities of oil and gas.

Petronas said further exploratory work will be necessary to determine the overall size of the reservoir, but gas resources could be in excess of 1 tcf.

Around the same time, al-Qaeda's North Africa network said it planned to attack interests held by the US, which it said was establishing military bases and seeking control of the region's energy sources.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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