NIAMEY (Reuters) - Benin, Niger and Togo have all formally recognized Libya's rebels, breaking ranks with the African Union which said on Friday it could not recognize the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) until fighting had ended.
Most African nations, many of whom had beneficial but tricky relations with Muammar Gaddafi, remained neutral during the conflict though, over the last week, a slew of governments have sided with the rebels as they seized control of Tripoli.
The government of Niger, a southern neighbor of Libya which has long had ties with Tripoli, issued a statement on Saturday formally recognizing the rebels, days after pro-rebel officials took control of the embassy in its capital, Niamey.
Niger, one of Africa's poorest nations, is having to cope with the return of more than 210,000 Nigerien migrant workers who had been in Libya before the conflict started. The flow of weapons and fighters from Libya is also a major concern.
A day after Benin recognized the rebels, Togo on Saturday said they would work with them.
Deposed Libyan leader Gaddafi was one of the main driving forces behind the creation of the 54-member African Union.
South African leader Jacob Zuma, who has been a vocal supporter of Gaddafi, said on Friday the AU bloc would not recognize the rebels while fighting was still going on.
The NTC has won recognition from more than 40 countries, and AU officials told Reuters on Friday that 20 of them were African.
(Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi in Niamey, Samuel Elijah in Cotonou and John Zodzi in Lome; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Mike Nesbit)