Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nine civilians killed in separate incidents in Niger

Two civilians in Niger were killed in different cities by nearly simultaneous explosions on December 10, according to news reports.

In the city of Maradi, a town near the Nigerian border, a civilian truck rolled over an anti-tank mine and exploded, killing one and wounding one. Later, in Tahoua, 350 km southeast of Agadez, a civilian vehicle exploded after hitting a mine, killing one and wounding one.

The Niger government has waged a low-level war with the Nigerien Movement for Justice, the MNJ, in the northern area of the country, people are worried because these explosions took place in southern cities. The government claimed the MNJ is attempting to create a campaign of “urban terror” to effectively divide the country and secure political and economic power in the north.

An MNJ spokesperson told IRIN the group was not behind the blasts.

"There is no element of the MNJ that would target civilians," the spokesman said. "The army did this to turn public opinion in their favor."

However, IRIN claims that unnamed “human rights” groups in Niger feel the MNJ is responsible for the mine-laying, paying civilians to place the mines and offering a bonus if they hit a military vehicle. “The method means the MNJ in practice has little oversight over where its mines are placed, the rights groups say,” IRIN points out.

Army attack
The announcement of the exploding mines comes after Niger’s military admitted it accidentally shot and killed seven Tuareg civilians after a firefight with the MNJ.

Shortly after the firefight ended, in which on member of the MNJ was killed, four Toyota pickups strayed into the battlefield, the army said. The vehicles were peppered with bullets, Reuters reported.

Two of the seven killed included well known Tuareg traders. "This accident has deeply affected the army which has in its ranks a member of the family of one of those killed," the military statement said.

No end in sight
Jason Mosely, Africa editor at Oxford Analytica, claimed the explosions in the southern part of the country are a sign that the government of Niger’s military approach to end the violence is not working.

“I doubt this really represents a widening of the conflict,” he said. “I don’t think we’re returning to a 1990s level of violence just yet,” he added, referring to five years of instability in northern Niger between 1990 and 1995 that scattered hundreds of thousands of Nigerien refugees around the region.

“But it does show Niger’s approach is not paying dividends as they pursue a robust military and rhetorical response instead of pursuing engagement as has worked for the government in Mali.”

Mosely tried to draw parallels with Iraqi insurgents.

“In the aftermath of the Iraq insurgency the use of these kinds of high-profile, high-impact attacks that are indiscriminate and end up killing civilians does seem to be spreading in countries where you would not previously have expected it.”

“Niger’s rebels are not necessarily the strongest force there is, but these kinds of attacks have a significant impact because they’re so targeted and atrocious.”

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