By Frank Jordans, The Associated Press
GENEVA, Apr 5, 2011- Britain's former Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned Tuesday that terrorist groups such as al-Qaida could exploit instability in the Middle East to establish safe havens.
Brown said al-Qaida is believed to be taking advantage of the situation in Yemen, where protesters have demanded President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down after 32 years in power.
"There is a worry that al-Qaida are being given a far greater freedom to organize because of the disarray of the Yemen government," Brown told The Associated Press in an interview.
"The events that are happening in the Middle East and North Africa are going to take time to unfold," he added, referring to the unrest that has already seen governments toppled in Tunisia and Egypt. "We must make sure that no terrorist can exploit that," he said, noting that extremists have used war-torn Somalia as a staging post for attacks elsewhere.
Several Mideast leaders, including Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, have sought to portray the popular protest movements directed against their regimes as being infiltrated by radical Islamists — a claim Libyan rebel groups have strongly denied.
Despite concerns about the vacuum caused by removing decades-old regimes, Brown insisted that international intervention in Libya and elsewhere was right.
"I think the issue for us is responding to the legitimate desire of people in the region, their democratic rights," he said. "The clear evidence of Libya and elsewhere is we're responding to active local demands for change, and usually at the request of local people."
Brown's comments, made in Geneva on the sidelines of a conference on Africa, contradicted those of African Union head Teodoro Obiang Nguema hours earlier.
The 69-year-old president of Equatorial Guinea said the conflict in Libya was an internal problem, and foreign military intervention in Ivory Coast also was unwarranted.
"I disagree with that," said Brown, who has devoted considerable time toward campaigning for development in Africa since losing power a year ago.
"There is a responsibility to protect," he said, citing Rwanda's bloody genocide in the 1990s as an example where the international community should have intervened sooner.
Brown used the Geneva meeting to publicly air his proposal for a $100 billion investment fund to improve Africa's infrastructure. The fund would draw on private money, possibly sovereign wealth funds and large pension funds, he said.
Asked whether he would quit his post as member of parliament in Britain to oversee the establishment and running of such a fund, Brown said: "I am the MP and I am continuing to be the MP."