Tribal elders to mediate in Niger’s Tuareg revolt

A group of tribal elders sent by Libya has offered to serve as mediators in resolving the Tuareg rebellion in Niger. In a meeting with Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja on Wednesday, the association of elders expressed its “will to contribute to peace” in the north of the country, a source told AFP.

Libya’s leader Moammar Qadaffi, who has been mediating in the Niger conflict since this February, helped create the network of tribes in Mali’s central city of Timbuktu in 2006. Amid charges that it was siding with the rebel Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), Tripoli intensified its diplomatic links with Niamey in early May. The MNJ released 25 government troops in March, thanks to Tripoli’s intervention. Tandja has refused to directly negotiate with the MNJ, whose leaders he dismisses as bandits and drug traffickers.

Niger’s first Tuareg rebellion, which lasted five years, ended in 1995 with the signing of a peace treaty brokered by France, Algeria and Burkina Faso. (AFP, May 29)

On May 24, the MNJ freed a local human rights official they abducted after accusing him of being involved in purchasing arms for the government. El Hadj Ahamadou Ahalawey, a member of parliament and vice president of Niger’s official human rights commission, was taken nby gunmen on May 14 at Tanout in the northeastern Zinder region.

In a posting on its website, the MNJ said Ahalawey was released to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross at a location 25 kilometers east of the northern town of Agadez.

The MNJ’s desert fighters have killed more than 70 government soldiers over the past year in their campaign for autonomy in the Agadez region.

Niger’s Defense Ministry said May 23 that soldiers had killed 11 rebels in an attack on an MNJ base in a mountainous part of the Agadez. It said arms, munitions and anti-tank mines were seized from the rebels. But in a sharply conflicting version, the MNJ accused government soldiers of killing seven civilians in a raid on nomad camps at the Wells of Tadak, 10 kilometers north of the town of Iferouane. It said MNJ fighters fought back against the attacking army column and that four MNJ combatants and five government soldiers were killed.

There was no independent confirmation of the clash. Niger’s authorities have blocked foreign journalists from visiting the Agadez, which is under a state of alert. (Reuters, May 25)

See our last posts on the Tuaregs.