Algerian troops find huge arms cache on Libya border


* Rockets, arms near southern border with Libya

* Algeria, Libya's other neighbours wary of Libyan turmoil

* Al Qaeda local affiliate, other Islamists operate in area

By Lamine Chikhi

ALGIERS, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Algerian troops discovered ahuge arms cache near the border with Libya, including hundredsof surface-to-air missiles, rockets and landmines, an Algeriansecurity source said on Thursday.

"It is an arsenal of war," the source, who asked not to benamed, told Reuters, adding that it likely belonged tomilitants.

Algeria is worried about violence spilling over fromneighbouring Libya, where a fragile central government isstruggling to contain militias and Islamist militants operatingin its lawless southern desert.

The source said the cache was found in Illizi in southernAlgeria, about 200 km (125 miles) from the Amenas gas plant,which Libyan-based Islamist militants attacked in January,killing nearly 40 foreign contractors.

The weapons included 100 anti-aircraft missiles, more than500 MANPAD shoulder-launched rockets often used against lowflying aircraft like helicopters, and hundreds of rocketlaunchers, rifles, landmines and rocket-propelled grenades, thesource added.

He did not give further details on how or when the arms wererecovered.

Two years after its civil war toppled Muammar Gaddafi, Libyais still awash with weapons from the former leader's regime andthe militias who fought him.

Tunisia's Prime Minister Ali Larayedh told Reuters last weekIslamist militants were taking advantage of Libya's chaos to gettraining and weapons across its porous border with Tunisia.

The attack on the Amenas gas installation and Libya's chaoshave left energy companies wary over security in North Africa.BP and Norway's Statoil are still assessing whether to sendforeign workers back to Amenas.

"Algeria is a target for al Qaeda cells who may have beenplanning a major attack, maybe disrupting air traffic orstriking military aircraft or helicopters, which are the besttools to track terrorists in the desert," said security analystand Ennahar TV editor Anis Rahmani.

As well as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, other militantgroups in North Africa include Ansar al-Sharia both in Tunisiaand Libya, and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africaor MUJWA, scattered this year by the French offensive in Mali.

MUJWA recently announced it was joining forces with anothergroup led by veteran Algerian fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar, whomasterminded the attack on the Amenas plant in January.

Seven Tunisian police were killed on Wednesday in gunbattles with militants in Tunisia, where the government twomonths ago began a crackdown on Islamist hardline, Ansaral-Sharia, blamed for killing two opposition leaders.

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