DAKAR (Reuters) - African leaders on Tuesday urged western nations to act to resolve the crisis in Libya which has sent shock waves across the vast arid Sahel band and threatened to destabilize fragile regional governments.
More than three years after a French-led NATO military action helped oust Libya’s longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, two rival governments are competing for legitimacy, raising fears of a civil war for control over the country’s oil wealth.
A second round of U.N.-sponsored peace talks was due to open this week. Abdullah al-Thinni, internationally recognized prime minister, has vowed to drive Libya Dawn from Tripoli after the armed group seized the capital in August.
The political void in the north has allowed Islamist groups to regroup in Libya’s barren south and from there threaten nations including Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.
“As long as we haven’t resolved the problem on southern Libya, there will be no peace on the region,” Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita told an African security forum in Senegal’s capital Dakar.
Mali became one of the first collateral victims of the chaos that erupted following Gaddafi’s ouster when Islamist fighters, many armed with weapons seized from Libyan government arsenals, overran the country’s north in 2012.
A French-led military intervention drove the groups, some with links to al Qaeda, out of cities and towns, but they mount regular attacks mainly on Malian soldiers and U.N. peacekeepers deployed to the country.
African states accuse the west of ignoring their concerns and say that once Gaddafi was killed they left the country to fend for itself.
“Now Libya is fertile ground for terrorism and all sorts of criminals,” Chadian President Idriss Deby told the forum, adding that NATO had an obligation to finish what it started in Libya.
Senegal’s President Macky Sall said the region’s poorly equipped militaries needed more material support from the West. Mauritania’s Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz called for an end to ransom payments for hostages held by militant groups.
“We are giving them more capacity to carry on with their terrorist endeavors,” he said, in an apparent reference to France’s controversial practice of paying to free its kidnapped nationals.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, whose country has deployed some 3,200 troops in the Sahel to tackle Islamist groups, said the problems in southern Libya would not be settled until a solution was found for the political crisis.
Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Howard Goller