Conflict & Justice

British prime minister makes surprise visit to Libya


Libyan prime minister Ali Zaidan (R) greets British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) ahead of their meeting as part of the British PM visit in Libya on January 31, 2013 in Tripoli. Cameron does a surprise visit in Libya following a one-day-visit in Algeria in the wake of this month's hostage crisis in the Sahara in which several Britons were killed.



British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Tripoli today in a surprise stop during a trip to North Africa.

He held talks with Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zaidan and toured a police training college, Bloomberg News reported.

Cameron's trip illustrates the high level of Western concern over the growing importance of North and West Africa as a crucible for al-Qaida inspired jihadist plots.

The British leader clearly wants to express support for the Libyan government's efforts to establish order over the post-Gaddafi country. Islamist groups in Libya are seen both as a direct threat and a source for arms for radicals across a region that's dangerously close to Europe.

"The British people want to stand with you and help you deliver the greater security that Libya needs," Cameron said in Tripoli. "So we have offered training and support from our police and our military. We look forward to working together in the years ahead."

Afterward, Cameron announced that Libya has agreed to process visas for Scottish police investigating the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, which killed 270 people and was blamed on Libya.

Cameron was in Algeria on Wednesday, when he offered to send British special forces to train and support Algerian security forces, the Telegraph reported.

Algeria, which successfully contained an Islamist insurgency during a bloody civil war in the 1990s, is seen as a key player in the region. Cameron's visit was the first by a British prime minister since the country won its independence from France in 1962.

It shows Britain's desire to build political, economic and intelligence links. He was accompanied in both countries by his national security advisor and the head of the MI6 intelligence agency.

Cameron may also have wanted to rebuild bridges in Algiers after British media criticism of the Algerian response to an Islamist attack on a natural gas plant earlier this month in which 37 foreign hostages died.

More from GlobalPost: UK-Algeria security partnership announced

Six British citizens were killed at the desert facility.

Cameron has recently spoken about boosting security in North Africa.

“We know that there are real connections between Islamist extremist militants in Algeria and those in Libya,” Cameron told lawmakers on Jan. 18. “These are all part of terrorist networks and they use whatever available ungoverned space there is in order to plan, build and thrive. We need to work with the new Libyan government to reduce the quantity of ungoverned spaces there, and to ensure that there is proper security in that country and that weapons are properly accounted for.”

Back in Britain, legislators questioned how the Defense Ministry would fund its expanding international activities at a time Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is set to propose more defense budget cuts in his spending review for 2015-16.

The military hasn't received promised equipment because of budget cuts in recent years.

“It’s important to understand that the defense budget, including the equipment plan, finances the core activity of our armed forces,” Defense Secretary Philip Hammond told the Telegraph in an interview.