Niger’s military reports killing at least five “armed bandits” in a remote Saharan region still largely outside state control more than 10 years after the end of a rebellion by desert nomads. A defense ministry statement said soldiers seized three vehicles, automatic rifles, munitions and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher in the March 1 clashes near Ouraren in Arlit province, 1,280 kilometers northeast of the capital Niamey. Military sources said that armed men also attacked two public buses, injuring two passengers and robbing others that day on the road between the main regional towns of Arlit and Agadez. “Search operations” are said to be underway.
Niger’s desert north was the scene of an armed insurgency in the 1990s by Tuareg, Arab and Toubou groups demanding greater autonomy. Most armed groups accepted peace deals in 1995, but the government charges many former rebels have turned to banditry. Some have openly accused the government of failing to respect the accords. On Feb. 8, ex-rebel fighters attacked the town of Iferouane in the northeast zone, killing three government soldiers. The attack was claimed by a Tuareg group calling itself the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ). The group demanded more Tuaregs be appointed to regional civilian and military posts and that income from Niger’s natural resources be more fairly distributed. Niger’s government dismisses the fighters in the north as “highway bandits” and refuses to use the term “rebellion.” Despite being the world’s third largest producer of uranium, Niger is one of the poorest nations on earth. (AlJazeera, March 3 via the Niger-based Tuareg rights site Temoust)