France promises to reimburse Mauritania for Dakar Rally's cancellation

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania -- France intends to reimburse
Mauritania for financial losses from last month's cancellation of
the Dakar Rally, which was called off because of the possibility of terrorism.

France Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner made the promise
Friday, adding his country would increase its cooperation with
Mauritania on security.

"It's true that we have damaged the image of Mauritania as well
as its tourism economy, but we will ask businessmen and French
investors to return to Mauritania," Kouchner said.

The French organizers of the 5,760-mile race canceled the
30-year-old rally after back-to-back terror attacks in Mauritania,
including the slaying of four French tourists. Although the race
crosses several African countries, the cancellation was especially
harmful to Mauritania whose remote, dune-enveloped hamlets rely on
the influx of tourists that come with the cars and motorcycles.

French tour groups immediately began canceling trips to
Mauritania after the Christmas Eve killing of the tourists, an act
the government blamed on an al-Qaida linked terror network.

Mauritania is a relatively stable Islamic country and one of the
only Arab League states that recognizes Israel. In the past month
the country has faced an attack on one of its army bases as well as
on the Israeli Embassy in Nouakchott.

The attacks on the base and on the embassy were claimed by
Al-Qaida in North Africa, an Algerian-based terror cell. No group
has claimed responsibility for the killing of the French tourists,
but Mauritanian authorities have blamed the same terror cell.