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Niger warns Areva on uranium mine delays

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* Uranium mine startup slowed by kidnappings, labour strife

* Niger says Areva must meet its commitments

* West African state poised to become No. 2 uranium exporter

NIAMEY, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Niger warned French nuclear giantAreva on Thursday against any further delays to itsImouraren uranium mining project, saying it could not support acompany that is unable to meet its commitments.

The mine is meant to boost Niger's uranium output by 5,000and make it the world's second-largest exporter of the nuclearfuel, but the planned startup of production was delayed to 2013or 2014 from 2012 after seven Areva workers were kidnapped inNiger's north two years ago.

Construction work has also been hampered by labour disputesthat triggered strikes earlier this year.

"The deadline for finishing civil engineering on the sitemust be strictly met," said Niger Mines Minister Omar HamidouTchiana on state television after visiting the project onWednesday.

"It is out of the question for Niger to endorse a companythat is unable to honour its commitments."

He did not specify what action Niger might take againstAreva if it failed to live up to the government's expectations.

Areva has been mining uranium in Niger for around fourdecades and is the country's biggest single investor. It alreadyruns two producing uranium mines in Niger's desert.

Al Qaeda's north African wing, which operates in a broadswath of the Sahara, claimed responsibility for the 2010kidnappings of the Areva workers near the mining town of Arlitand later released three of the hostages. The other four arestill being held.

An Areva spokesman in Niger declined to comment. The companysays on its website that Imouraren will start up in 2013, butNiger officials have said the project is on track for 2014.

(Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi; Editing by RichardValdmanis and Robin Pomeroy)

((richard.valdmanis@thomsonreuters.com)(+221 33 864 5076))

Keywords: NIGER URANIUM/AREVA

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