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Tunisian Army chief of staff announces resignation - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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This photo provided by the Tunisian Presidency shows Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, left, and Chief of Staff Rachid Ammar, second right, visiting military forces in Jebel Chaambi, western Tunisia and close to the Algerian border, Tuesday, May 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Tunisian Presidency)

This photo provided by the Tunisian Presidency shows Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki, left, and Chief of Staff Rachid Ammar, second right, visiting military forces in Jebel Chaambi, western Tunisia and close to the Algerian border, Tuesday, May 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Tunisian Presidency)

Tunis, Asharq Al-Awsat—The chief of staff of the Tunisian National Army, Gen. Rachid Ammar, announced his retirement on Tuesday following recent criticism of the Tunisian army’s attempts to tackle armed Salafist groups loyal to Al-Qaeda.

The 67-year-old general mentioned in televised remarks that he sought to take advantage of his right to retire, having passed the “legal retirement age by far.” He explained that he submitted his request to President Marzouki last Saturday, and that his request had been accepted.

His decision to step down comes at a time when Tunisia faces a transitional phase with increased activity of armed pro-Al-Qaeda groups, especially in the western highlands of the country near the Algerian border. Several voices were raised in criticism of the army’s inability to eliminate dozens of Salafist fighters based around Mount Alshaanbe, where they have been hunted by the Tunisian military since December of last year.

Earlier this month, two Tunisian soldiers were killed and several more wounded when their vehicle hit a mine near the town of Kasserine, in the latest of a series of attacks by militants on military targets.

The Tunisian army was widely praised for remaining neutral during the uprising that toppled former president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. In particularly, General Ammar is believed to have refused the commands of Ben Ali to fire on demonstrators during attempts to suppress the popular uprising.

President Marzouki presented General Ammar with a medal on Monday during a celebration of the 57th anniversary of founding the army in Carthage Palace, Tunisia’s presidential palace. Marzouki also condemned the criticism against the army leader, but did not mention his intention to resign.

In his TV debut after the revolution, General Ammar mentioned the “multiple stabs in one place from several parties,” in reference to the criticism he received. He appeared calm during a TV interview after the announcement of his decision, and said that the president had at first asked him to reconsider his request, but accepted after Ammar insisted.

The general also said that he is “not the type to escape hardship and will remain a solider amongst Tunisian soldiers.”

Following Ammar’s announcemnt, a spokesman for the Tunisian Ministry of Defense announced that the military respected Ammar’s decision and will not interfere in the matter. Mohamed Abbou, chairman of the Democratic Party, a sister party of President Marzouki’s Congress for the Republic Party, has called for changes to the military establishment. Abbou said that the Tunisian military needed reform, pinpointing the need for the appointment of a new head of the three Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He added: “It doesn’t make sense to keep an official in office if he has failed at his duties.” Abbou’s statement was criticized by a variety of political leaders, leading him to deny that his call was motivated by any personal animosity towards General Ammar.

On the issue of military intervention in the uprising that toppled Ben Ali, Ammar said in a television interview that “as a signatory to this, the army should not interfere.”

Ammar reiterated his claim that he could have used his position to take power following the fall of Ben Ali, but was not interested in doing so, and that the military should continue to follow this course.

He added: “We [the army] didn’t defend the country for the sake of power, but decided to follow the constitution.”

On the terrorist organizations that have emerged in Tunisia’s west, in the area around Mount Chaambi, Ammar said it was coincidence alone that led to the discovery of these armed groups, which had been consistently active throughout the whole year without being noticed. He attributed this to defects “of intelligence work with information systems.”

He added that he considered smuggling, terrorism, and organized crime to be the three greatest threats to Tunisia.

Ammar drew parallels between the armed groups that the army currently faces and the militants the army battled around the town of Soliman in 2007.

He said: “The groups have adopted the same approach and seek to achieve the same objectives,” and called for a national agency for information gathering all the parties and maintaining security in Tunisia.

Meanwhile, a group of MPs has proposed changes to legislation designed to exclude former members of Ben Ali’s government from power only two days before it is due to be presented in a public hearing before parliamentary committee members.

Among the changes, the legislators proposed altering its name from the “Law for the Protection of the Revolution in Tunisia” to the “Law for Political Isolation,” a similar title to the controversial legislation excluding former members of Muammar Gaddafi’s government from public office in Libya.

Ben Omar, one of the deputies involved in introducing the proposal, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the deputies also suggested expanding the list of individuals excluded from holding office to include “all of the people involved in the system of tyranny,” and not only the leaders of the dissolved Democratic Constitutional Rally Party.

He added: “The House of Representatives also suggested the creation of an independent body called the “Integrity Commission,” whose most important task would be setting the preliminary list of people included in the law of political isolation.”

The Tunisian parliament is under increasing pressure to reexamine the law amid growing debates on the country’s political scene as to its feasibility. Some political parties, including the Alliance of the Union for Tunisia, which is led by the Call for Tunisia Party led by Beji Caid Essebsi, have described the act as “exclusionary and non-humanitarian.”

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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