June 1, 2011 / 11:11 AM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 2-U.S. concerned over Libya weapons reaching Al Qaeda

* U.S. General says proliferation of weapons a real concern

* Al Qaeda North Africa exploiting chaos in Libya

* “Libya is a huge depot of arms”, Algeria official said

(Adds quotes of Algerian minister in para 4 and 5)

ALGIERS, June 1 (Reuters) - The United States has real concerns about weapons from Libya ending up in the hands of Al Qaeda, the commander of the U.S. military’s Africa Command said on Wednesday.

“There is a very real concern for all the regional partners, and the United States shares this concern, about the proliferation of weapons from Libya to other places, including those under the control of al Qaeda and others,” General Carter F. Ham told a news conference.

Libya’s neighbour Algeria has said it believes the chaos inside Libya, and the large quantities of weapons circulating there, is being exploited by al Qaeda’s North African branch, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

“Libya is now a huge depot of arms...and we know that sophisticated weapons have been transferred from Libya to northern Mali,” Algeria’s delegate minister for Africa and Maghreb Affairs Abdelkader Messahel told reporters. He did not elaborate.

Messahel said Algeria, “a pivotal state” in the region, was ready to lead the fight against AQIM and added that a meeting will be held in September in Algiers to discuss the issue.

A senior Algerian security source told Reuters convoys of pick-up trucks carrying weapons had been crossing the border from Libya to Niger, and from there to northern Mali where AQIM has bases in the desert.

“To control this proliferation of weapons will require the cooperative efforts of all involved and I have been encouraged to note the meetings that have occurred between Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger,” said Ham, who was in Algiers to meet officials after his appointment earlier this year.

“The United States is working with each of these countries to find ways in which U.S. support might be helpful. It could be in the sharing of information, it could be assisting in technical ways with border security,” he said. (Reporting by Christian Lowe and Lamine Chikhi; Writing by Jan Harvey; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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