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Niger Increasing Security Following Al-Qaida Threats Against Aid Workers

Women wait to receive baby food in Koleram, southern Niger, during the launch of a UN-backed feeding operation aimed at fighting malnutrition among young children, 28 Apr 2010

Niger's military government says it is increasing security for international aid workers threatened by groups affiliated with the al-Qaida terrorist network. Relief officials say those threats could undermine efforts to feed eight million people who do not have enough food.

Many of the threats from groups loosely affiliated with al-Qaida appear to focus on Niger's Maradi region, more than 600 kilometers east of the capital Niamey.

Maradi's military governor Colonel Garba Maikido says there is no precise information concerning the nature of the threat, but security officials have taken measures to protect foreign workers.

After learning of the al-Qaida threat, Governor Maikido says, the military government took immediate action to determine the nationalities of all expatriates in the area and reinforce security around their residences. For those expatriates who need more protection, he says they are now being protected by gendarmes.

Aid groups in Niger are evacuating some Western staff because of the al-Qaida threat, which comes at a time when the country is at the peak of its lean season before October harvests.

Khardiatou Lo N'Diaye is the UN coordinator for Niger. She met with Governor Maikido about the security threats.

N'Diaye says the United Nations does not want to neglect the al-Qaida threats, so that is why she is asking the governor to reinforce security for UN workers and other aid groups. She says the United Nations believes the situation is being well handled by local authorities.

Islamic militants say they killed a French national who was abducted in northern Niger in April. Two Spanish aid workers who were kidnaped in Mauritania last year are still being held by an al-Qaida-affiliated group known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

That group claims responsibility for bombing an army barracks in western Niger earlier this year. It also says it killed a British hostage in Mali last year and shot dead a U.S. aid worker in Mauritania before bombing the French Embassy in Nouakchott.