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AP Interview: Algeria admits mistakes in standoff

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MARTIN BENEDYK | January 26, 2013 05:54 PM EST | AP

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DAVOS, Switzerland — Algeria's foreign minister acknowledged that security forces made mistakes in a hostage crisis at a Saharan gas plant in which dozens of foreign workers were killed during Algerian military strikes.

Mourad Medelci also conceded that Algeria will need international help to fight terrorism. Algeria's decision to refuse foreign offers of aid in handling the crisis, and to send the military to fire on vehicles full of hostages, drew widespread international criticism.

"We are in the process of assessing our mistakes," Medelci told The Associated Press in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Friday.

He did not, however, identify any mistake or address specific criticism of the chaotic and bloody operation. But overall, he suggested that the Algerian government did the right thing.

"In that assessment we are leaning more towards establishing that the operation was a success," he said.

The Jan. 16 attack, which an al-Qaida-affiliated organization has claimed responsibility for, sent scores of foreign energy workers fleeing across the desert for their lives. A four-day siege by Algerian forces on the complex left at least 37 hostages and 29 militants dead. Some of the fatalities were badly burned, making it difficult to identify them.

The minister said Algeria is likely to reinforce security measures at sites where multinationals operate in the oil- and gas-rich country. But he insisted that foreign workers in Algeria "will continue to work in Algeria and that is the best way to answer the terrorists."

He defended the government's decision to attack instead of negotiating, pointing to its years of experience dealing with Islamist extremist violence.

"Faced with such an attitude (of terrorism), it's not just words that solve the problem. It's action," he said.

But he admitted that Algeria can't face international terrorism alone.

"It absolutely needs support," he said.

He argued that Algeria wasn't the target of the attack. Instead, he said, the terrorists were targeting investors and the foreigners who work for them.

An international group of militants led by a Mali-based warlord staged the attack. The extremists demanded an end to the French-led military operation in neighboring Mali, where al-Qaida-linked groups have seized and expanded control over the past year.

___

AP correspondent Angela Charlton contributed from Davos.