BRUSSELS - The European Union is to send experts to Niger to train its security forces to fight al-Qaida, signalling the depth of EU concern over the growing threat Islamist militancy poses to Africa's Sahel region.

The mission, approved by EU governments on Monday, will start work next month in the Niger capital Niamey.

The rebel takeover in the north of Mali, which borders Niger, as well as an influx of weapons and fighters after last year's revolt in Libya, have raised fears about the stability of the arid Sahel belt of central and west Africa.

"Increased terrorist activity and the consequences of the conflict in Libya have dramatically heightened insecurity in the Sahel," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

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