* Expanding uranium, oil output underpin buoyant growth
* Niger frets over insecurity in neighbouring north Mali
By Philip Baillie
LONDON, June 12 Niger expects its resource-rich economy to grow 15 percent in 2012, boosted by increased production from its uranium mines and growing output from its newly-started oil industry, President Mahamadou Issoufou said on Tuesday.
Issoufou, making the first visit to London by a Niger president, cited IMF and World Bank forecasts to support his presentation of the Sahel country as one of the fastest growing states in Sub-Saharan Africa. He spoke at Chatham House.
The projected soaring 2012 growth for Niger, which compares with an estimated 3.8 percent GDP advance in 2011, is three times the average growth of 5.4 percent forecast for the Sub-Saharan region by the IMF. In the region, only Sierra Leone is expected to grow faster this year, by a forecast 35.9 percent.
Perched on the edge of the Sahara, Niger is one of the world's top producers and exporters of uranium, and late last year also joined the ranks of Africa's oil producers.
But its population remains one of Africa's poorest, plagued by frequent droughts and food shortages. Niger's government also fears a spillover from the occupation by Tuareg separatists and Islamist fighters of the neighbouring northern part of Mali, following a coup in the Malian capital Bamako in late March.
Issoufou said Niger's uranium production was expected to double to around 9,000 tonnes a year from around 4,000 tonnes currently, thanks to the construction of a new mine, Imouraren, which is expected to come on line in 2014. Imouraren is being developed by French nuclear power giant Areva.
"We are also an oil producing country," the president added. He said oil output had started at 20,000 barrels per day (bpd), which covered domestic consumption and also allowed part to be exported. This followed a $5 billion joint venture deal with China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).
EYE ON NEIGHBOURING MALI
Issoufou saw Niger's oil output ramping up quickly to 100,000 bpd and he forecast production could even reach 500,000 bpd in the future, following further expected discoveries.
Niger and CNPC are planning a crude oil pipeline through Chad for 2013 and 2014, to facilitate exports.
The government also intended to develop deposits of coal, chalk, clay and gypsum.
Faced with the threat of rising Islamist militancy in Mali's north, Issoufou repeated his government's intention along with other West African states to seek a U.N. Security Council mandate for military intervention in the neighboring territory.
"We are trying to preserve the integrity of Mali," the Niger president said, although he said war would be the "last resort".
He said the U.N. Security Council, responding to a request by the West African grouping ECOWAS, would give its opinion on Wednesday on the sending of an armed force to Mali.
Appealing for Western support to deal with the problem of a divided Mali, Issoufou has said Afghan and Pakistani jihadists were training recruits in northern Mali.