There is an increasing risk of Libya becoming a haven for combatants from Islamic State, even as western nations target the extremist jihadist group in Iraq & Syria, the French defence minister warned in comments published Sunday.
"We see foreign jihadists arriving in the region of Syrte (northern Libya) who, if our operations in Syria & Iraq succeed in reducing the territorial reach of Daesh (Islamic State, IS) could tomorrow be more numerous," defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the Jeune Afrique weekly.
Le Drian ruled out military intervention in Libya yet warned the West had to try to foster Libyan unity in the face of such a threat.
"It is a major risk & that's why there absolutely must be understanding between the Libyans," said Le Drian.
Analysts believe Libya would present a less hospitable environment for IS than Syria & Iraq.
But Tripoli is hampered in presenting a united front as rival governments vie for power — a militia alliance including Islamists that overran Tripoli in August 2014, & the internationally recognised administration that fled to eastern Libya.
The current chaos in Libya with groups of competing militias since the overthrow & death of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011 has allowed IS to build influence, notably in Kadhafi's coastal home town of Sirte, east of Tripoli.
And there are widespread fears the group could exploit tribal conflicts further into Africa.
Recognising Islamic State's increasing Libyan reach, Le Drian said he feared that ultimately the group could form one half of a double-edged jihadist challenge in conjunction with Boko Haram, which pledged allegiance to their fellow Islamic extremists in March & which has been bringing terror to Nigeria, Niger, Chad & Cameroon.
"There is a major risk of a link being forged with Boko Haram," said Le Drian, urging Libya's rival administrations to make usual cause while urging neighbours Algeria & Egypt to work diplomatic channels to that effect.
But Le Drian insisted that France would not countenance military action at least while the Libyans are divided among themselves.
"That's not on the agenda. One cannot release the Libyans from their responsibilities by suggesting there might one day be an intervention. They must find solutions themselves."