ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria is concerned by a noticeably increased al Qaeda presence in neighboring Libya and worried militant groups could lay their hands on weapons circulating in the country, a senior official said on Tuesday.
Abdelkader Messahel, Algerian Deputy Foreign Minister said he was worried “particularly through the increasingly noticeable presence of AQIM (al Qaeda’s north African wing) in Libya and the increasingly noticeable circulation of weapons which can be exploited by terrorist groups.”
Addressing a news conference after meeting Britain’s Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt, Messahel said a prolonged conflict in Libya risked destabilizing the Sahel region.
“Everybody has noticed, and we are not the only ones, that there are a lot of weapons circulating in Libya and this situation, if it persists, will aggravate the situation in the Sahel,” he said.
Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday eastern Libya was littered with massive amounts of unexploded ordnance, abandoned and unsecured weapons and munitions and recently laid landmines from the fighting, posing a great threat to civilians.
It said that as the government lost control of eastern Libya, rebels and civilians had gained access to massive military weapon and munitions depots, abandoned by government forces. Among these depots are the 60-bunker Hight Razma facility on the eastern outskirts of Benghazi and a 35-bunker facility on the eastern outskirts of Ajdabiyah.
Both storage facilities are packed with weapons and munitions and readily accessible to civilians, it said, adding its researchers had visited the Ajdabiyah site in March and found no guards defending the facility.
It called on the transitional authority in eastern Libya to safeguard munitions depots in areas under its control, adding it should also secure, monitor and clear areas contaminated by unexploded ordnance and abandoned munitions.
“When ordinary civilians, even children, can walk into a weapons depot and remove anti-tank missiles, landmines, and surface-to-air missiles capable of shooting down a civilian aircraft, you have a real problem,” Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“The rebel authorities should take urgent action to secure the arms depots under their control,” added Bouckaert, who has just completed two weeks of research in eastern Libya.
Messahel stressed Algeria’s opposition to foreign military intervention in Libya, which it has said goes beyond the United Nations resolution allowing foreign states to intervene to protect civilians.
“From our point of view, anything which continues for a long time, like violence, like war, will delay a return to stability in this brotherly nation (Libya) and there will certainly be repercussions for the stability and security of the region,” he said. “So we, as a neighboring country, want to see a quick return to a solution which is of the Libyans, by the Libyans and for Libya.”