Algeria beefs up army presence on Mali border: MP

The Algerian army has beefed up its positions on the border with war-torn Mali to prevent incursions by armed Islamists fleeing north, an official in the southern town of Tamanrasset said on Monday.

"The army has been deployed on the border for a while, but reinforcements have been sent since the beginning of the war (in Mali). It's about preventing the infiltration of terrorist groups," Mohamed Baba Ali, a member of parliament in the garrison town told AFP.

"Without these reinforcements, there would have been terrorist incursions from northern Mali."

The Algerian government has been tight-lipped since France launched major air strikes on Sunday near Kidal, the last bastion of armed extremists being targeted in northern Mali as part of a French-led offensive which began on January 11.

Algeria, which had always opposed military intervention in Mali, was reluctantly drawn into the conflict when it agreed to let French warplanes use its airspace, and closed its 1,400-kilometre (900-mile) southern border shortly afterwards.

Just days later, Islamist gunmen attacked an Algerian gas field, unleashing a hostage crisis that left 37 foreigners dead.

"The situation inside Algerian territory is normal," said Baba Ali, adding that the residents in the border towns of Tin Zaouatene, Timiaouine and Taoundert, "are afraid because there is a war nearby, but nothing more".

Only in Tamanrasset has the conflict noticeably affected the local economy, with tourism and handicraft, the main sources of income, grinding to halt, along with cross-border trade.

On Sunday, the governor of Adrar, a town 1,400 kilometres southwest of Algiers whose region shares the longest section of border with Mali, said the authorities had registered no Malian refugees since the border closure.