UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
NIGER: Government reports clashes with Islamic militants
NIAMEY, 17 Mar 2004 (IRIN) - Government troops and members of an armed Islamic group have clashed in recent weeks in the north of Niger, Defence Minister Hassane Bonto told parliament on Tuesday.
Bonto said there were three clashes between the armed forces and the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC - le groupe salafiste pour la prédication et le combat) between 22 February and 5 March.
The first two occurred in Midal, over 600 km north of the capital, Niamey, and in the Air Mountains in the extreme north.
The latest clash came after the armed forces received a tip-off that GSPC members were about 100 km from a military outpost in the northeast. "After troop reinforcements were sent," Bonto said, "our forces pursued the GSPC elements to the Chadian border, around Tchigai region" in the extreme northeast.
He said 43 GSPC militants were killed and five were taken prisoner, including one Niger national. Three Chadian soldiers died and 18 were wounded, while the Niger armed forces did not register any casualties, according to the minister.
Caught between the Chadian and Niger armies, the militants fled, leaving five vehicles - four of them equipped with 14.5-mm anti-aircraft guns - six mortars, six Thuraya satellite phones, two night-vision binoculars, mortars, AK-47s and a sizeable quantity of other arms and ammunition.
Bonto said the GSPC, a splinter faction of Algeria's Armed Islamic Group, arrived recently in northern Niger after being dismantled in southern Algeria and Mali as part of efforts to fight terrorism. The group, he said, was working hand-in-hand with armed bandits from Niger and was using hideouts and caches left over from a rebellion in the 1990s by Tuareg nomads.
The minister told parliament it was "imperative" to provide Niger's army with the resources it needed to ensure people's safety and fulfil the country's regional and national obligations in the fight against terrorism.
Niger needed to coordinate action and exchange information with its neighbours, deploy mixed patrols in the north on a permanent basis, and set up advance military outposts so as to control the area better, he suggested.
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