Areva chose to have unarmed guards: Niger

20th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

French nuclear group Areva, which had one of its employees and his wife kidnapped last week, chose to have unarmed private security guards, the Niger government's spokesman said Sunday.

"Less than two months ago the government made an offer to Areva to take over the security of its agents," using the FDS, a combined force of police, paramilitary gendarmes and soldiers, said government spokesman Laouali Dan Dah.

"It's Areva who made the choice to assure the security of its personnel, which is not the case for other (mining) operators," he added.

The army was only present in Arlit to protect the strategic uranium mining sites, he added: so Areva could not therefore shift responsibility for the kidnap of its staff on to the government.

French groups Areva and Vinci both confirmed on Sunday that they employed private security firms to protect their French staff -- and that they had not been armed.

An Areva spokesman said that under the terms of an agreement with the Niger government, 350 gendarmes and soldiers at Arlit regularly patrolled the site where the foreign workers lived.

But Dan Dah said: "If the abductors were able to operate with such ease, it's because, among other things, the security of the staff was in the hands of private agents who were not armed."

The latest batch of hostages was kidnapped on Thursday from their homes in Arlit in northern Niger by suspected AQIM-linked gunmen, or Tuareg bandits who may have planned to sell them on to the Islamists.

The seven are five French nationals, one Togolese and one Madagascan. All worked for French companies involved in uranium mining in the Arlit region.

After initially announcing tighter security at its site in Arlit, both companies finally decided to repatriate their foreign workers.

© 2010 AFP

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