Niger fears takeover by militants in neighbor Libya

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 17, 2011 8:03 AM
Niger fears takeover by militants in neighbor Libya

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Niger fears that Islamic militants could seize power in Libya as a result of the civil war in its northern neighbor, President Mahamadou Issoufou said late on Saturday.

Speaking on state television, Issoufou said Niger would not take sides in the conflict, unlike several other African nations which back the rebels, and insisted the only solution to the violence was through a negotiated political accord.

"Niger's interest is that this crisis does not result in fundamentalists taking power, that's our concern," said Issoufou, who won March elections which returned Niger to civilian rule after a year of military government.

"Niger's interest is that the crisis resolves itself, that it does not drag on and that the Libyan state does not go the same way as Somalia," he added. The Horn of Africa state is battling against al Shabaab rebels linked to al Qaeda.

Several African countries, including Senegal, Gambia and Liberia, have either distanced themselves from leader Muammar Gaddafi or overtly recognized the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) as representing the Libyan people.

But Issoufou said that Niger, which is already struggling to deal with the return of some 211,000 migrant Nigeriens forced out of Libya by the violence, would remain neutral.

"On Libya, we are not aligning ourselves behind anyone," he said, adding that African Union efforts to get agreement for a "roadmap" deal involving a ceasefire and a transitional phase leading to elections appeared to be making progress. He did not give further details.

Aside from the risk that the return of migrants destabilizes Niger and other neighbors to the south of Libya, there are also concerns that arms spilling out of Libya will end up in the hands of al Qaeda-linked groups involved in trafficking, hostage-taking and clashes with armed forces in the region.

(Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalaatchi; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)