Voice of America reporter Phoun Trang has spent the past 11 days with Tuareg rebels, somewhere in Niger, and from her take, both sides – the rebels and the Government of Niger – are in the process of escalating their conflict.
She recently debriefed the VOA English to Africa service based in the U.S. Here are some excerpts.
[Travelling with the Tuareg rebels has] been a process of waiting. In each place they’ve been trying to gather ammunition to gather weapons. There’s a wide network of Tuaregs who are helping them. And three days ago, while we were traveling, they got news that the Nigerien army had left Agadez with some 70 vehicles and were headed to one of their bases.
“President Tanja has refused to negotiate with them, saying they are bandits or drug traffickers. And until they depose their arms the government will not negotiate with them.” The rebels say they will not negotiate with a government they consider unstable.
At the heart of the conflict are mineral revenues. [The Tuaregs are] basically unhappy with the peace accord of 1995. They say the government is not sharing enough of the uranium royalties with them. They feel that this land, this ancestral land that they have been on, their families have been on for thousands of years, has been taken over post-colonialism, divided up, and that the government is expropriating the uranium…and is not investing enough in the community. In 1995 they were promised 15 percent of uranium royalties. They say to this day that has not been fulfilled. [On] other parts of the peace accord, the government has made progress. They have been able to integrate Tuaregs, the ethnic nomad Tuaregs, into the government….but this rebel group is saying they’re still unhappy,” she says.
Trang is one of the few American journalists to be able to travel with the Tuaregs. My guess is that she will be filing other stories.