UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
NIGER: Touareg attack army in the north
NIAMEY, 9 Feb 2007 (IRIN) - Three Nigerien soldiers were killed and two kidnapped by Touareg fighters who attacked an army base near Iferouane, some 1,000km north of the capital Niamey, on Thursday.
A Touareg militia group Movement of Nigerians for Justice (Mouvement des Nigériens pour la Justice - MNJ) claimed responsibility. The group was not widely known until Thursday and has not yet made its aims public.
Previously, Touareg groups in the north have said they were fighting for the release of Touaregs held in Nigerien prisons. They have also demanded that the government divide wealth from the country’s large oil and mineral resources more equitably, as well as appoint more Touaregs to senior positions in the regional government in Agadez.
The Nigerien government minimized Thursday’s attack in a statement released in Niamey on Thursday afternoon. It blamed the fighting on “bandits” and said the army would be given all necessary resources to secure the area.
However, Ilguilas Weila, a Touareg heading the Niamey-based NGO Fight Against Slavery Association (Association de lutte contre l'esclavage) who said he is not associated with any armed Touareg movements, urged the government to negotiate with such groups.
“This looks like a rebel movement, but the Nigerien authorities have the tendency to minimise its [importance],” Weila said. “It’s only when things go bad that they look for discussion. I ask that the government negotiate before it is too late, because the real victims are Nigeriens.”
In 1995 Niger’s government signed a peace accord with the Touaregs, mediated by Burkina Faso, Algeria and France, which ended five years of hostilities. Since then there have been periodic flare-ups. The Niger army maintains a heavy presence in the north.
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