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article imageSouthern Libya becoming haven for Islamic militants

By Ken Hanly     May 31, 2013 in World
Sabha - Several reports claim that the militants who attacked a French-run uranium mine and a military base in Niger came from southern Libya.
Niger's president last week claimed that the militants who attacked the two targets came from southern Libya. Libya has denied the charge. The Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan claimed the charges were "without basis". He stressed his country "could never become a source of concern or destabilisation for its neighbours". Nevertheless many security officials from other countries say that southern Libya has become a new haven for Islamic militants some of them linked to Al-Qaeda.
While French forces have driven many of the militants from northern Mali, the militants simply migrate to safer areas of the region as borders are poorly guarded and porous. The Libyan government has little control in the south of Libya. The whole of the south west of Libya was once ruled by Italy and later by France. The central government has problems exerting any control of the region since the Gadaffi regime was removed. Gadaffi had support in the region as he spent considerable time in Sabha. Much of the south has been declared a closed military zone since December of 2012 in an attempt by the central government to gain some control of the area. Borders were temporarily closed.
A senior adviser to Mali's interim president said:"The south of Libya is what the north of Mali was like before." Chad, which sent troops to help the French in Mali, said that a man was shot dead in an attack on its consulate in the southern town of Sabha last weekend. Southern Libya is a haven for smugglers who are often also militants who earn funds by smuggling drugs, cigarettes and people into Europe.
Gadaffi's overthrow aggravated the situation as weapons flooded into the area. These weapons helped fuel the rebels both Tuareg and Islamists who took over northern Mali. Libya relies on local brigades to police the southern border as it has no effective national army. A French diplomat complained:"We're extremely concerned that what's happening in southern Libya could replicate what happened in Mali. Dealing with that problem needs to be fast-tracked." European governments approved a 110 person mission to improve border security through training Libyan police and security forces. France worries that the guards are being deployed too slowly.
Vicki Huddleston, a former US ambassador to Mali said: "As much as the West may wish to leave the problem to Africans, it cannot. Islamists will continue to fight until defeated by the region working together and supported by Western governments."
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