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Cameron pledges UK support to Algeria, Libya

British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged UK support and cooperation in countering Islamist militancy in Libya during a surprise visit to Tripoli on Thursday, after striking a new security deal with neighbouring Algeria the previous day.

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David Cameron pledged UK support during a surprise trip to Libya on Thursday, after flying in from Algiers where he also signed a new security deal with the Algerian government. The British prime minister said the UK army would help train Libya’s security forces during a trip to a police training academy and Martyrs’ Square in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

Cameron has called North Africa and the Sahel desert-region a “magnet for jihadists” and warned of a “generational struggle” against them, after at least 38 hostages died in an Islamist attack on an Algerian gas complex earlier this month.

“There is no true freedom and no true democracy, without security and stability as well. We are committed to helping with that both here and also in your neighbourhood,” Cameron said at a news conference with Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.

“We’ve agreed a package of additional help from Britain to Libya - increasing the military training we are providing, increasing the police advisers ... We’ve also discussed how we can help build the institutional capacity of the new Libyan government,” he added.

Cameron last visited Libya in 2011 along with then French president Nicolas Sarkozy when they were greeted in jubilant crowds in Benghazi after rebels ousted former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi with French, British and US backing.

Since then, Libya’s second city has been disrupted by violence and become a base for Islamist militant groups. Last week, Britain urged its citizens to evacuate the city, citing a “specific, imminent” threat. The move irked Libyan officials keen to attract foreign money and expertise after decades of under-investment during Gaddafi’s rule.

Growing regional concern

On Wednesday he met with Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and also had talks with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers, where he struck a new security partnership between the two countries following the deadly hostage crisis at the In Amenas gas plant in the Sahara Desert.

The two countries will exchange information on border and aviation security, countering improvised explosive devices and tackling extremist ideology and propaganda. They will also work together to combat threats to stability in north Africa with initial talks beginning within the coming months.

"When terrorism grows up in different parts of the world, it damages our people and our interests in those parts of the world but also back at home as well," Cameron told reporters. "Because it is growing, we shouldn't ignore it, we should work with partners to try to combat it."

On Tuesday London said it would deploy more than 300 military personnel in non-combat training and air support roles to help the French-led military operation in Mali.

However, Cameron has shied away from a major military response and instead espoused empowering regional governments to take the lead in security and bolster the rule of law and democratic institutions.

"We have learnt the lessons of the past - that these problems are not deal-able with through purely military or security means alone," Cameron said.

"We need a combination of a tough security response but also working with international partners, using our diplomacy, using our aid budget, using all of the things at our disposal -- including seeking political settlements to some of the underlying grievances on which terrorists thrive."

Cameron, whose visit ended Thursday, was accompanied by his national security adviser and a trade envoy, Downing Street said. British reports said the head of the country's foreign intelligence service MI6 was also on the trip.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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