Niger’s government warned its people on Sunday they could be targeted by roving militias if they travel to Libya, as tensions rise between the neighboring countries over Niger’s refusal to extradite former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s son al-Saadi.
Two Nigeriens were killed and 11 injured on Friday in Libya when their vehicle overturned during a car chase in the desert, the latest incident of apparent attacks on Niger immigrants in the country, the government said.
“The minister of foreign affairs ... and the minister of public security strongly discourage travel to Libya because of attacks by independent and uncontrolled militias,” according to a Nigerien foreign ministry statement read over the radio.
“Both departments recommend strongly to the Nigerien youth to refrain from the temptation of migration to Libya until the security and economic situation becomes more stable and reassuring,” it added.
Migrant workers from Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries and which faces near-annual food shortages, have for years sought employment in oil-producing Libya, or a pathway to Europe along its Mediterranean shores.
Libya’s new government has pressed Niger to extradite al-Saadi, saying his call in an interview with Arab media on Feb. 10 for Libyans to prepare for a “coming uprising” threatened bilateral ties.
Niger pledged to tighten its surveillance of Saadi, who before the war was best known for his passion for soccer, but said he could not be handed to a state where it says he could be executed.
Protesters demonstrated outside Niger’s embassy in Tripoli after the incident, with some spraying graffiti that read “Cut ties now” and “Close the embassy” on its walls.
Adding to tensions, Libya’s war has pushed hundreds of pro-Qaddafi fighters, along with weapons, south into the Sahel region that are believed to be fueling a renewed Tuareg rebellion in Niger’s western neighbor Mali.
French Foreign Minister Allain Juppe visited Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure on Sunday, pledging French support to end the fighting that has killed scores and forced more than 125,000 people from their homes, including into Niger.