France is willing help Libya secure its borders from militant Islamist groups fleeing Mali, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday.
Security officials say the vast deserts of southern Libya are becoming the latest safe havens for Al-Qaeda linked fighters who fled neighboring Mali after France sent troops there in January to prevent a Islamist coup.
“France is available to bring contributions to the sovereign tools of the Libyan state, especially on securing the borders,” Le Drian told a press conference after attending a security conference in Singapore.
“Libya is a sovereign country that is responsible for its own borders. It has to decide whether it wants extended support from the French or any other European country to secure its borders,” he said.
Le Drian however reiterated comments by French President Francois Hollande earlier this week that while France wants to work with Libya against militant groups on its territory, it will not take military action in the country without UN backing.
“We are gradually going to get out of the military phase... we will be relieved by the blue helmets (UN peacekeepers), thanks to a unanimous decision by the UN Security Council including China,” said Le Drian.
Earlier Sunday, he warned in a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum about threats from “terrorist groups” operating from areas in a country beyond the control of the central government.
“As one could see in Mali, in Somalia or in Afghanistan, the inability of some states to exert control over their territories may give rise to regional insecurity and foster the settlement of terrorist groups,” the minister said.
He added that France remained committed to curbing the growth of terrorism havens in North Africa.
In Libya, Mali and Afghanistan, the French government “decided to preserve its defense effort at significant levels, despite finance and budget crises,” Le Drian said.
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