The US Peace Corps has halted its aid program in Niger and evacuated its volunteers over security concerns after two French nationals were abducted and killed there by Al Qaeda-linked militants.
It marks the first time the Washington-backed aid group has suspended its activities in the impoverished West African state since 1962, highlighting the growing threat from gunmen operating in its northern desert regions.
“The Peace Corps has suspended its activities and its volunteers (…) have already left the country,” an official at the US embassy in Niamey told Reuters on Thursday, Reuters reports.
All 98 volunteers in the country have been evacuated, according to a release on the Peace Corps Web site.
Niger is among the world’s poorest countries with the average citizen living on less than US$1 per day, though its resource riches have drawn billions of dollars in planned investments in uranium and oil extraction.
Two Frenchmen were abducted and killed in Niger earlier this month in an attack claimed by Al Qaeda. Five other French nationals were taken hostage in September, including a worker for French nuclear firm Areva.
There are no signs mining or energy companies plan to withdraw staff from the country, although Areva last year pulled some expatriate workers back to the capital Niamey from the remote mining areas.
The vast and largely lawless country has been run by soldiers since a February 2010 coup, but elections aimed at restoring civilian rule are scheduled this month.