Thursday, December 6, 2007

Standoff continues between Tuaregs and the Government of Niger

From VOA

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.

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," he said.

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.

Also, there’s a very good interview over at World War 4 Report – a great source of information regarding this issuewith Issouf ag-Maha, a spokesman for the Mouvement des Nigeriens pour les Justice, the MNJ, an organization that took up arms against the Government of Niger. Bill Weinberg caught up with ag-Maha in New York City as he was embarking on a three-week speaking tour of the U.S.

Here’s the full text of the interview, which covers a lot of ground. Here’s some questions pertaining to the current issue.

Bill Weinberg: Just in the past year, there’s a been a sense of history repeating itself, and Tuareg leaders both in Niger and in Mali have returned to armed resistance.

IM: About eight months ago, a group of Tuareg in Niger decided to alert the population and the government to the deterioration of the situation and the non-respect of the agreements that had been signed in 1995. The country is currently run by an elected president named Tandja Mamadou who was a colonel in the army and one of the men primarily responsible for the historic Tchintabaraden massacre in May of 1990 that actually started the first war. It was a classic case of a brutal military official becoming all of a sudden a friendly politician in a formal democracy, and achieving international recognition as such.

So Tandja responded to this new uprising eight months age with absolutely brutal and decisive violence. His government has made a decision that once and for all this situation must end, and the Tuareg and opposition must be completely annihilated. He seeks to eliminate Tuareg expression in politics and society entirely. So the situation has been made much worse in a very short time.

He brought back old habits. Anybody identified as a Tuareg is automatically suspected of supporting or being a part of the rebellion. Tuareg community leaders and intellectuals are being singled out and forced into exile as a result of the repression.


BW: And [Justice Movement of the People of Niger] has been engaging in low-level harassment of army patrols and so on in the north of the country. What are the MNJ’s demands?

IM: The main demand is a very basic one—fairness and rights. Also, the sharing of wealth, a better understanding of regional needs in Niger. But the most important new phenomenon in this particular conflict is the widespread and arbitrary sale by the national government of huge tracts of land in the desert to foreign uranium companies that are acquiring legal rights to our ancestral lands, without any of the peoples of northern Niger being consulted or even informed.

We fully understand that one of the poorest countries in the world can’t afford to not take advantage of the existence of a significant resource that’s in demand. We’re not saying that uranium shouldn’t be touched. But the very survivial of a whole people is at stake here. What we say, is that the conditions for the exploitation of this resource, the system which is put in place to extract it, how the whole economy of this resource is regulated, the accountability of the firms—all of these things have to be discussed by the population.

And what about the consequences on the environment, which is already in a bad state. We're dealing with a radioactive resource here. It’s not too much to ask that there be some consultation, that we be involved. We’re being dispossessed arbitrarily of lands and resources for the survival of our way of life, without any kind of democratic deliberation.

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