Libya denies Niger attacks launched from its territory

BRUSSELS Mon May 27, 2013 2:31pm EDT

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Libya dismissed on Monday Niger's assertion that the Islamist insurgents who attacked an army base and a uranium mine there last week had come its desert south, an area many countries fear has become a safe haven for militants.

Thursday's attacks killed 24 soldiers and one civilian and damaged machinery at an Areva mine that supplies uranium to France's nuclear power program. Militants said the raids were retaliation for Niger's role in the French-led war on Islamists in Mali.

Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou said the attackers had come from southern Libya, which has become a smuggling route for weapons reaching al Qaeda militants deeper in the Sahara since Muammar Gaddafi's fall in late 2011.

"I would like to confirm those (claims) are groundless and do not relate to reality," Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan told a news conference during a visit to Brussels.

"It was Gaddafi who exported terrorism ... The new Libya will not tolerate that."

The Tripoli government is struggling to impose its authority on a myriad of armed groups who helped topple Gaddafi and now refuse to lay down their weapons. The national assembly in December declared the south a military zone but policing porous borders remains a huge task for weak state security forces.

"We have ... strengthened securing our borders and we have taken measures not to let anyone go out of Libya or into Libya from Mali," Zeidan said.

Issoufou said the raids showed Libya was a source of regional instability, months after France launched an assault on northern Mali, which Paris warned had become a launchpad for attacks by al Qaeda-linked groups.

Speaking after meeting European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Zeidan reiterated Tripoli's call for Niger to hand over Gaddafi's son Saadi and other Gaddafi-era officials who fled to the West African country during Libya's war, blaming them for "terrorist acts in the region".

(Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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