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France issues Niger travel warning after killing of aid workers

French citizens urged to avoid travelling to Niger if possible as reserve attack raises questions over troop deployment.

France has issued a warning against travelling to Niger after six French aid workers were among eight people killed by suspected fighters at the weekend.

The foreign ministry said on its website on Wednesday people were “strongly advised” not to travel anywhere in the country, excluding the capital, Niamey, for which travel was “not advised unless for compelling reasons”.

The new advice means that the southern part of Niger, roughly a quarter of the country and far from areas where fighters are believed to operate, has been added to the so-called red zone, for which there is a strong recommendation to avoid.

“The terrorist threat against Niger, especially outside the capital and near the borders, is very high,” the ministry said.

The French nationals – members of the NGO ACTED – their Nigerien guide and a driver were murdered on Sunday in the Koure National Park, a wildlife haven 65km (40 miles) from Niamey.

The assailants vanished without a trace and no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

France has more than 5,000 soldiers deployed in the Sahel, an arid region south of the Sahara desert plagued by a worsening conflict that involves multiple armed groups, military campaigns by national armies and international partners as well as local militias.

The unrest began in 2012 when an uprising by Tuareg rebels in the north of Mali was swiftly hijacked by al-Qaeda-linked fighters. The presence of thousands of foreign troops has failed to stem the violence, which has spilled into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, with groups exploiting the poverty of marginalised communities and inflaming tensions between ethnic groups.

As soldiers from both Niger and France combed the reserve and surrounding areas for signs of the attackers, French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday pledged to reinforce security measures in the Sahel, without elaborating. Meanwhile, Niger’s government extended a state of emergency to the entire region that surrounds Niamey and suspended access to the giraffe reserve.

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