EU to consider security training mission to Niger

Wed Mar 14, 2012 6:37pm GMT

* Islamist militancy in Sahel spreading

* West sees need to contain instability

* EU plans mission, faces budget constraints

By Justyna Pawlak

BRUSSELS, March 14 (Reuters) - The European Union is considering sending security experts to Niger to help combat a growing threat from al Qaeda and regional instability after the rebellion that toppled the Libyan government, EU diplomats said on Wednesday.

EU foreign ministers will discuss the idea at a meeting on March 23, diplomats said. If the plan is approved, it could see a small mission deployed to train local police and security officials in the coming months.

"Our objective is to support local governments in the region in ensuring better security," said one diplomat. "The aim is to get something operational this year."

Western concerns over instability in the southern Sahara have grown in recent months, with a spate of kidnappings of Westerners by al Qaeda's North African wing, and expectations of deepening food shortages later this year.

Since the end of the Libyan rebellion which ousted Muammar Gaddafi, an influx of arms and nomadic ex-fighters into the region has raised concern that Islamist groups may exploit lawlessness and expand their influence.   Continued...

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