PARIS Jan 24 France has ordered special forces
to protect uranium sites run by state-owned Areva in
Niger as the threat of attacks on its interests rises after its
intervention against rebels in Mali, a military source said on
Paris launched air strikes and sent hundreds of soldiers
into Niger's neighbour Mali this month to drive back
al-Qaeda-linked rebels it said could turn the West African
country into a base for international attacks.
The insurgents have threatened to hit French targets across
the Sahel region in revenge and, days after the French assault,
militants stormed a desert gas plant in Algeria and took
The military source confirmed a report in weekly magazine Le
Point that special forces and equipment would be sent to Areva's
uranium production sites in Imouraren and Arlit very quickly,
but declined to go into further details.
Defence ministry officials declined to comment on the report
and Areva said it did not talk about security issues.
Seven workers, including five French nationals, were
kidnapped in Arlit by al Qaeda's north African arm AQIM in
September 2010. It later released three of the hostages but four
French citizens are still being held.
An official at the defence ministry said that for the moment
Nigerien authorities had not yet approved the measure.
"It's true that the terrorist threat has increased today,
but as far as I know there is no such agreement in place at the
Areva, Niger's biggest single investor, has about 2,700
workers in Niger and is planning to start up a third mine in
The planned startup of production in Imouraren was delayed
to 2013 or 2014 from 2012, following the kidnappings and a
A Niger army officer said that there were already security
arrangements agreed with France since 2011 after the kidnappings
in Arlit and they had been reinforced over time.
"We also have our counter-terrorism units in the Agadez
region," he said. "For now, I don't know of a decision by the
Nigerien government to allow French special forces to base
themselves in the north."
An Areva spokeswoman said this month the French government
had not asked the company to reduce staffing in Niger. She added
Areva has an extensive security plan for its employees and that
the plan has been reviewed by the French authorities.
Areva has been mining uranium in Niger for more than five
decades and the country provides one third of the group's
According to a parliamentary committee enquiring into
France's supplies of uranium, about 18 percent of the raw
material used to power France's 58 nuclear reactors came from
Niger in 2008.
French utility EDF, that runs all of the country's
power reactors declined to comment on the current share.