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Malian conflict sparks fears in Niger

Jan. 17, 2013 at 9:13 AM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. State Department warned its citizens to exercise extreme caution if traveling to Niger because of a threat from spillover in neighboring Mali.

The French government last week responded to a Malian request for military support to thwart the advance of Islamic militants. The State Department, in a travel warning, called on any citizens in Niger to "remain vigilant" given the potential for conflict spillover.

"The border region with Mali continues to be of specific concern since the Malian government's loss of control over its northern region in early 2012," the warning read. "The border is porous, and there are frequent reports of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and other terrorist or rebel groups crossing into Niger."

AQIM is said to be behind a deadly hostage crisis in nearby Algeria. The attack on a natural gas facility in the west of the country was seen as a response to the multilateral military operation in Mali.

Catherine Ashton, the top foreign policy official for the European Union, expressed concern about the attack. Western hostages are said to have been killed during the crisis.

"I condemn these murders and call upon the abductors to immediately release the hostages they hold," said Ashton.

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