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Niger Rebels Attack Convoy, Refuse to Negotiate

By Naomi Schwarz
05 December 2007

Ethnic Tuareg rebels in Niger say they will not negotiate with the current government because the government will never meet their demands. The statements follow an attack this week on a government convoy that was to restock goods in a town surrounded by rebel forces. Naomi Schwarz has more from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

Vice president for the rebel Nigerien Movement for Justice, the MNJ, Acharif Mohammed, says the group has made its latest move. Now, he says, it is up to the government to respond.

"Now we are waiting to know what is the real strategy of [the] army if they want to attack back or something like that and then we can plan other operations," said Mohammed.

The rebels say they used rockets to destroy nine vehicles in a military convoy and killed all the soldiers inside. The vehicles held food and supplies for the town of Iferouane, a military stronghold in Niger's northern mountains, which is surrounded by rebel-held territory.

The government disputes the rebels' description of what took place. It says some soldiers were injured and some were killed when their vehicles drove over landmines.

Witnesses say there were casualties on both sides.

More than 40 government troops have been killed since Tuareg rebels launched their most recent uprising in February. They are demanding greater autonomy and a larger share of the region's uranium wealth.

The government has refused to negotiate with them. Niger President Mamadou Tandja has attributed the violence in his country's deserted, desert north to drug traffickers and bandits. He says the government has met the terms of a 1995 peace deal that ended an earlier conflict between the government and Tuareg rebels.

MNJ leader Mohammed says the rebels will not negotiate with President Tandja's government.

" Our vindications cannot be made, I mean, applicated, by this government. So we think that it is better for us, for a definitive peace, to wait for a stable government," he said.

Niger, perennially near the bottom of the United Nations Human Development index, has suffered a series of coups and assassinations since the first democratic elections were held there in 1993. Mr. Tandja, serving his second term after re-election in 2004, was the first president to have served a complete term in office.

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