France has ruled out Western military action against Islamist fighters in southern Libya for the time being, rebuffing an appeal for intervention from neighbouring Niger.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, asked about Niger’s call for action, said there was no question of putting foreign troops into a region that the United States has identified as an increasingly worrisome new haven for Al-Qaeda-linked militants.
But he said the Western powers were aware of the problem and were drawing up plans to help the Libyan government deal with it.
“No, an intervention, no (that’s not being discussed),” Fabius told RTL radio on Monday.
“But we are going to have an international meeting in Rome at the beginning of March to give Libya more help because it’s true that there are terrorists gathering in the south.
Fabius said Britain, Germany, the United States, Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia were all involved in talks on how to help Libya.
“We have to fight terrorism everywhere,” Fabius said.
“That does not mean we have to have people on the ground, it means we have to help governments that want to get rid of terrorism, which is the case with the Libyan government.”
Niger last week called on the West to finish the job they started in Libya by dealing with the Islamists who have established bases in the south since the 2011 overthrow of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
A poor but mineral-rich former French colony, Niger has had to contend with numerous Islamist attacks and kidnappings on its own soil, some of which have threatened the security of its uranium production.
In an annual intelligence report published in December, the United States said southern Libya had become an “incubator” for terrorism in a “hothouse” region and described a possible intervention as “within the bounds of the possible”.
France sent troops into Mali last year to combat Islamist militants who had seized control of much of the north of the country.
The security of the region is expected to be discussed by French President Francois Hollande and his US counterpart Barack Obama at talks in the United States this week.