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European Union mission to train Niger forces to fight al-Qaida

BRUSSELS -- The European Union agreed Monday to a two-year, $10.7 million mission in Niger to train the African country's security forces to fight al-Qaida.

The mission will comprise 50 international staff members and 30 to be hired locally, the EU said.

The commitment signals the depth of EU concern over the growing threat Islamist militancy poses to the Sahel region in central and west Africa. Exemplifying the threat was the recent rebel takeover of northern Mali, which borders Niger.

The region has seen an influx of weapons and fighters flowing into the region after last year's revolt in Libya that ousted Moammar Gadhafi.

"Increased terrorist activity and the consequences of the conflict in Libya have dramatically heightened insecurity in the Sahel," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

"European experts will train (Niger's) security forces to improve their control of the territory and regional co-operation," she said in a statement.

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The mission will be based in Niamey, with liaison officers in Bamako, the capital of neighboring Mali, and Nouakchott, capital of Mauritania.

The international staff will mostly be civilian security trainers from EU member states. The team will also have military expertise, EU officials said, but gave no further details.

Mali's March 22 coup precipitated the fall of the country's north to a mix of secular and Islamist rebels, who now control a desert region the size of France.

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The rebel takeover has emboldened al-Qaida's north Africa wing as well as other foreign militants, including Nigerian fighters from Islamist group Boko Haram.

Officials in Niger, a major uranium exporter, said last month that plans for the EU mission had been brought forward because of the threat of militant attacks from Mali.

This article includes reporting by Reuters.

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Niamey, Niger, will be home of the European Union mission. Liaison officers will be in Bamako, the capital of neighboring Mali, and Nouakchott, capital of Mauritania.

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