Libya accused of destabilising region

2013-05-31 07:44
Nigerien President Mahamadou-Issofou. (AFP, File picture)

Nigerien President Mahamadou-Issofou. (AFP, File picture)

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Tripoli - With its weak government, porous borders and proliferation of weapons, Libya has been accused of destabilising its southern neighbours, but analysts say it is wrong to point the finger at Tripoli alone.

Niger's President Mahamadou Issofou has said those behind two suicide attacks in his country on May 23 came from southern Libya.

He also said the same groups had been planning another attack on Chad.

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan hit back, saying the allegations were "without basis". He stressed his country "could never become a source of concern or destabilisation for its neighbours" to the south, which have themselves long suffered from instability.

However, Western diplomats and analysts believe that southern Libya has become a regrouping area for jihadist groups pushed out of northern Mali by a French-led offensive launched in January.

The region is a desert no-man's land where the smuggling of weapons, goods and people has flourished.

Faraj Najem, director of the African Centre for Studies in Tripoli, took issue with the allegations made by Niger's president.

"Mali does not share a border with Libya, which is an obstacle for the flow of fighters into southern Libya," Najem said.


"South-western Libya is controlled by the Toubou, who have no ties to Islamist movements," he added.

The Toubou people, who straddle the border between northern Chad, southern Libya and eastern Niger, share control of the south with several ex-rebel militias who fought against Muammar Gaddafi's regime in the 2011 uprising.

Najem said the presence of these militias meant it was also unlikely that Tuareg fighters from northern Mali would be welcome in southern Libya.

"They [the Tuareg] fought alongside pro-Gaddafi troops and because of this, the thuwar [ex-rebels who fought Gaddafi] are looking for them," he said.

In December, Tripoli decided to close its borders with Chad, Niger, Sudan and Algeria, saddling its fledgling army with a near-impossible task.

Najem said the weakness of the Libyan state meant it had little control over much of the south, making it difficult for Tripoli to seal the borders.

"It is the revolutionaries who hold the real power," he added.

But the country's southern neighbours are in no better state themselves, Libyan political analyst Hassan Imdhar said.

"For several years, the Nigerien, Chadian, Sudanese and Malian authorities have been faced with instability, armed rebellions and attempted coups, and have not managed to control their borders either," he told Libyan television station Al-Hurra.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Tuesday during a visit to Niger that there could be terrorist groups in Libya, calling for a "special effort on southern Libya, which is also what Libya wants".

Well-founded suspicions

Claudia Gazzini, Libya analyst for the International Crisis Group, said it was possible that those behind the Niger attacks might have come from Libya.

"Its Sahara borders are porous and the southern areas in particular lack significant government security forces," she said.

"There are also well-founded suspicions that some Islamist groups might have established bases in the south following their departure from Mali."

But Gazzini said it was simplistic to say Libya was solely responsible for the situation, as this "means disregarding the roots of the problem, which are intertwined with Niger's and France's own role in the Mali war".

Najem said the accusations by Niger's president against Libya could be the result of a standoff over its demands for the extradition of Saadi Gaddafi, son of the former dictator, who sought refuge in Niger during the 2011 uprising.

On Wednesday, Zeidan renewed calls for Niamey to hand over Saadi and other officials from the former regime.

Read more on:    international crisis group  |  muammar gaddafi  |  mahamadou issofou  |  france  |  libya  |  niger  |  mali  |  west africa  |  north africa

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