RABAT (Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday France was considering giving Libya more aid in counter-terrorism, including training more police.
Two years after a NATO-backed revolt ousted Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s government is struggling to control rival militias and al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants who are using lawless southern Libya as a base.
Fabius said the French military presence in Libya’s neighbor Mali was needed to help the region. Militants have threatened to attack French interests since Paris sent troops into the country this year.
France has already agreed to train 1,000 Libyan police in counter-terrorism and plans to train another 1,500, Fabius said on the sidelines of a regional border security conference in the Moroccan capital Rabat.
He told Reuters France was considering an “important” amount of further aid and training for Libya but would not give details of how much.
“Unfortunately, terrorism is increasing in the Maghreb and the Sahel regions. Obviously, those countries are the first to be concerned, but we are too,” Fabius said.
“Our action in Mali was so spectacular, but we need to continue to be there for the Malians, the Libyans and the whole region. It is too important for us.”
The Rabat conference aims to create a regional unit to exchange intelligence information and warnings about threats.
The secretariat of the unit is to be formed in a meeting in Libya in the next two months. The summit participants also plan to create a center in Rabat where officers from countries in the region can be trained in border surveillance.
Since the French intervention in Mali, southern Libya’s vast deserts have become a haven for al Qaeda fighters who fled across Mali’s border from French forces.
A French priest was kidnapped in northern Cameroon on Wednesday, the French Foreign Ministry said. No group claimed responsibility but French citizens have been seen as targets since the Mali operation.
Islamist militants tied to veteran Algerian fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar in January launched an attack on Algeria’s Amenas gas plant from outposts in Libya. Nearly 40 foreign contractors were killed in that attack.
Belmokhtar’s fighters have since joined forces with the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa or MUJWA, which was scattered this year by the French offensive in Mali.
The Algerian claimed his fighters carried out an attack on a French mine in Niger in May and has threatened to attack more French assets.
Libya’s neighbor Tunisia also says Tunisian militants have taken advantage of Libya’s chaos to get training and arms. A suicide bomber blew himself up at a Tunisian beach resort last month in the first such attack for a decade.
NATO is to advise Libya on strengthening its security forces and countering militias, amid fears of a slide into anarchy.
“In the south there are many terrorist groups such as al Qaeda, Ansar al-Sharia and others,” Libya’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdelaziz told reporters.
“We are trying to build an intelligence service and exchange information with our partners to help us to take control.”
Additional reporting by John Irish; writing by Patrick Markey; editing by Andrew Roche