Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja held peace talks with Tuareg rebel leaders for the first time, meeting for two hours in the northern town of Agadez. President Tandja told reporters he had offered an amnesty if the three rebel groups laid down their weapons. The rebels have not yet reacted to Tandja’s offer. However, before the meeting, the rebel Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) said it wants to see more Tuaregs in the army, increased autonomy and a greater share of revenues from uranium operations in the region.
Since 2007, various groups of armed nomads have been fighting for a larger share of the revenue generated by Niger’s uranium mines. Until now, Tandja had refused to negotiate with them. This week, construction began on a new uranium mine in the north of the country. When it is completed in three years’ time it will be the world’s second largest such mine. The French company Areva is building the mine and will hold a majority share in it. (Radio Netherlands, BBC News, May 4)
See our last posts on Niger, the Tuaregs and the global uranium wars.
A former UN special envoy to Niger who was kidnapped and later freed says he believes someone in the government of Niger or possibly with the United Nations betrayed him to al-Qaeda. Former Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that someone “shopped” him to his captors.
Fowler and his aide, Louise Guay, spent four months in captivity after they were taken at gunpoint last December while driving northwest of Niger’s capital, Niamey. He said Niger “hated” the mission, aimed at resolving a dispute between rebels and the government over resource royalties. Niger President Mamdou Tandja appeared “offended, annoyed (and) embarrassed” by the UN’s decision to send an envoy, Fowler said in the interview. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. Tandja blamed it on Tuareg rebels. Rebels from the Front of Forces of Redress retracted their initial statement claiming responsibility for the kidnapping, saying their website had been hacked. But some “Western intelligence officials” cited by AP believe the Tuaregs may have traded the hostages to AQIM. (AP, Sept. 8)