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France to host meeting on Libyan security next week

MYT 11:55:02 PM

PARIS (Reuters) - Countries that helped oust Muammar Gaddafi will meet in Paris next week to discuss how to stabilise Libya, which has been beset by security problems since the late dictator was toppled, French sources said on Tuesday.

France, which led international efforts to oust Gaddafi, will convene ministers and senior diplomats from the United States, Britain, Arab nations, the United Nations and European Union to Tuesday's meeting in Paris.

The French foreign ministry said the agenda would include "security co-operation, the legal system and the rule of law".

Libya and foreign diplomats fear an exodus of Malian and foreign Islamist fighters following a French-led intervention in Mali. Unless Mali's porous borders are secured, weapons smuggling will also pose a threat.

"The Libyan security situation is a real subject of concern for its neighbours and the countries that helped the transition," a French diplomatic source said.

"We need to help the Libyans gain the tools for their own security. It's a difficult situation because they need to rebuild everything for the state."

French forces have been attacking Islamist rebels in Mali for three weeks as African troops assemble ahead of a U.N.-backed campaign to oust insurgents who seized control of northern Mali in April.

The military operation in the former French colony has cranked up tensions in North Africa, with Islamist radicals vowing to strike back at French and Western interests.

Al Qaeda-linked insurgents killed 38 mostly foreign hostages last month when they seized an Algerian gas plant as a riposte to French military operations in Mali.

The Malian crisis was itself in part triggered by the return from Libya of heavily armed fighters, once in the pay of Gaddafi, who inflated the ranks of separatist and Islamist groups that launched attacks on Mali's army in early 2012.

SECURITY CONCERNS

European countries are also at concerned about security. They urged their nationals to leave Libya's eastern city of Benghazi on January 24, Britain citing a "specific and imminent" threat to Westerners days after the Algerian gas plant attack.

The call to leave Libya's second largest city irked Libyans keen to win foreign investment to rebuild a fractured infrastructure and boost the oil industry after the revolution that toppled Gaddafi.

Nevertheless, Libya is worried that if Mali's vast desert borders cannot be secured there will be a flow of weapons and Malian and foreign Islamist fighters back through Algeria and across Libya's borders.

Its Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdulaziz said on January 24 that spillover from Mali's crisis could undermine Libyan security and urged the United Nations to deploy peacekeepers in Mali once French forces withdraw.

U.N. special envoy Tarek Mitri, head of the U.N. mission in Libya, said on January 29 the Libyan authorities faced a serious security challenge in the east, where the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed in September.

The opposition of armed radical groups to the military intervention in Mali could exacerbate the situation given ideological and ethnic affiliations and Libya's porous border.

(Editing by Jon Boyle)

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