French nuclear giant steps up security after hostage killing

27th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

French nuclear power giant Areva said Tuesday it had stepped up security around its sites in the West African country of Niger after Al-Qaeda murdered a French hostage captured in the region.

The firm -- which is majority-owned by the French state -- employs 2,500 people in Niger, including around 50 French citizens, operating two huge uranium mines that supply fuel for power stations in France.

"We are increasingly limiting movement outside secure areas. We are working to make our staff aware of the risks, and paying more attention to any unusual situations or events," a spokeswoman told AFP.

Areva works with Niger's state security forces and with private security contractors on the ground to protect its sites and personnel, she said.

French hostage Michel Germaneau, a 78-year-old aid worker, was kidnapped in Niger in April and taken to neighbouring Mali by a group of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which announced that it had executed him on Saturday.

French and Mauritanian forces raided one of the group's bases on Thursday last week, killing six militants, but Germaneau was not found and France now believes an AQMI claim that the group has killed him.

Following the killing, President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed that the crime "will not go unanswered" and called on French citizens not to go to the Sahel, a vast swathe of semi-desert stretching from Mauritania to Mali.

The French embassies in Mali, Mauritania and Niger have registered the presence of around 8,000 permanent French expatriates between them, and tour operators say that around 30,000 French tourists visit every year.

Areva extracts almost half its uranium from Niger, where it has been active for 40 years.

Areva has recently settled its differences with the Niamey government, which for some time accused the energy giant of supporting Tuareg nomad rebels in the north of Niger.

© 2010 AFP

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