Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his Algerian counterpart Abdelaziz Bouteflika agreed to breathe new life into the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) to try to boost the region's economies, officials said Friday.
An official statement at the end of Bouteflika's visit said the two leaders had discussed rejuvenating the Union, created in 1989 and uniting Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.
The Union has been dormant for some time, partly because of the dispute over Morocco and the Saharwi people over the Western Sahara, but also because of Libya's preoccupation with sub-Saharan Africa, say analysts.
"Algeria and Tunisia are working together so that the Maghreb Union ... occupies the place it is due in this era of globalization and the groupings that have sprung up around us," said Ben Ali in an official statement.
Recent meetings between the member states augured well for the Union's future, he added.
Bouteflika's visit to Tunis comes only a month after that of King Mohammed VI of Morocco, while Ben Ali visited Libya in early June. Mauritania's President Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya is due to visit Tunisia, while Libyan President Moamer Kadhafi is due in Morocco shortly.
All these summit meetings could eventually result in a meeting of the Union's foreign ministers and a UMA summit by the end of the year, Ben Ali added.
The two leaders also discussed the Eizenstat Initiative, named after US Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat. Set up in 1998, it aims at increasing economic relations between north Africa and the United States.
Bouteflika and Ben Ali also discussed reviving trade between their own countries, from its current level of 80 million dollars (84 million euros) to 300 dollars, as it was in the past.
A report last week from the World Economic Forum put two UMA members, Tunisia and Mauritania, first and second respectively at the top of its Africa Competitiveness Report, measuring the health of the continent's economies.
By contrast, however, Libya is still shackled by economic sanctions because of its alleged support for terrorism. Bouteflika and Ben Ali repeated a call for sanctions to be lifted against Iraq -- and for an end to the embargo against Libya.
Bouteflika arrived in Tunis on Wednesday night on a three-day visit, the first by an Algerian leader to Tunisia since 1994 -- TUNIS (AFP)
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