EU offers help as Sahel countries step up security

Fri Dec 9, 2011 2:24pm GMT

* 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.   Continued...

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