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Fourteen dead as Niger clashes with convoy from Libya

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Niger’s army has clashed with a heavily armed convoy of vehicles that entered its territory from Libya, killing 13 in the convoy and suffering one casualty on its side, military sources in the West African country said on Wednesday.

The sources said Nigerien authorities took 13 prisoners after the incident, which took place on Sunday around the remote northern Nigerien mining town of Arlit, just south of the border with Algeria.

“I understand it was a convoy of pro-Qaddafi Libyans guided by Malian Tuaregs,” said one army officer who declined to be named, adding that some members of the convoy had fled.

Niger’s government said late on Tuesday there had been a clash, without specifying that the convoy had come from Libya, where forces loyal to slain leader Muammar Qaddafi have been routed by NATO-backed rebels now in control of the country.

The government statement said Nigerien forces had seized arms including 36 assault rifles, 11 machine guns, three rockets and over 11,000 cartridges of different calibers.

Hundreds of thousands have fled Libya south into Niger and neighboring Mali in past months. The vast majority are migrant African workers who had settled in Libya, but authorities have also signaled the return of some armed pro-Qaddafi fighters.

Niger has taken in Qaddafi loyalists including four generals and his son Saadi, saying it is sheltering them on humanitarian grounds. Niger has not commented on speculation that another Gaddafi son, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, has sought to enter Niger.

However it has said that if he did, it would fulfill its commitments to the Hague-based International Criminal Court, which has issued an arrest warrant for him over alleged crimes against humanity.

Governments in the Sahel are worried that Libyan arms depots used by Qaddafi have been raided and that the weapons may be falling into the hands of rebel groups and local Qaeda allies responsible for kidnappings and attacks on government sites.

I understand it was a convoy of pro-Qaddafi Libyans guided by Malian Tuaregs

a Niger army officer