December 9, 2011 / 2:28 PM / 6 years ago

EU offers help as Sahel countries step up security

* Mali reinforces troops in the north

* Niger trains elite unit to combat terrorism

* EU says offers 150 million euros support

BAMAKO, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Mali and Niger are increasing security measures in the Sahel region after a spate of kidnappings and worries over the fallout from the Libyan crisis, and the European Union said on Friday it would financially support their efforts.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in Brussels the 27-nation bloc had earmarked 150 million euros ($200 million) to bolster security efforts “covering, as a priority, Mauritania, Mali and Niger.”

Niger said it had deployed elite forces in the desert and Mali said it was also shoring up security in its northern town of Kidal, in a region where Tuareg who fought for Gaddafi in Libya are believed to be massing.

Four Europeans and a South African were kidnapped in Mali last month, and a German was killed, adding to a spate of kidnappings in the vast and remote desert region where al Qaeda’s North African wing operates.

An influx of weapons and ex-fighters from Libya’s war has ramped up concerns about more attacks by al Qaeda and a possible rekindling of rebellions by Tuareg nomads.

Ashton’s announcement came after a meeting with foreign ministers of Mali and Niger, along with representatives of Algeria and Mauritania.

Governments are struggling to improve cooperation in the vast region, which has long been a safe haven for rebels and smugglers.

Mali, which has been criticised by its neighbours and foreign partners for not doing enough to secure its borders, is reinforcing its troops in the northern town of Kidal, a Mali security officer said.

“The military build-up is being done every day and the firepower is significant. Our mission is to secure Kidal,” the senior military officer said, asking not to be named.

“I can tell you that all the corps are involved. Army, Air Force... and a significant redeployment of elite troops, police and gendarmerie,” the officer said.

Residents have seen several military convoys leaving military garrisons around the capital Bamako and heading to the north of the country.

Niger said on Thursday that it has trained special forces within its armed forces with the specific task of combatting terrorism.

Niger’s defence minister Karidjo Mahamadou said on national television the elite troops were trained in the United States, France and on-site in Niger with the assistance of foreign partners, saying their numbers were in the hundreds.

$1 = 0.7512 euros Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo in Bamako and Adboulaye Massalatchi in Niamey; Additional reporting and writing by Bate Felix; editing by Robert Woodward

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