Areva admits it was warned about Niger kidnappings

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French nuclear group Areva admitted Tuesday that Niger officials had warned it about an armed group seeking to abduct foreign workers in the desert area where seven expats were kidnapped last week. "We received the letter," a company spokesman told AFP, referring to a letter dated September 1 and published Thursday on Le Monde newspaper's website warning of the threat.

The letter said the security situation in the Arlit region -- where Areva runs uranium mines and where five French nationals, a Togolese and a Madagascan were kidnapped by suspected Al-Qaeda linked militants -- was deteriorating. It said that on August 23, a group of armed men in a column of eight Toyotas was chased off by Niger's defence forces and prevented from carrying out their their suspected plan to kidnap foreigners and seize military material.

The letter, addressed to Areva directors and the heads of other firms operating in the mining region, was signed by the top Niger official in the Arlit region, Captain Seydou Oumanou.

Areva has been criticised over its security measures for its workers in the west African state. It has denied refusing help from the Niger government to protect workers but admitted it had made security mistakes.

The seven hostages all worked for French companies involved in uranium mining in the Arlit region.

© 2010 AFP

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