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Niger warns of new Tuareg rebellion

2012-01-22 22:47

Arlit - Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou warned on Sunday of a new Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country after clashes between soldiers and rebels in neighbouring Mali.

"Recurrent rebellions and residual insecurity [as well as] terrorism eating at the Sahel region [and] arms and drug trafficking... have ended the golden age and slowed economic and social development of the region," he said as he inaugurated a peace and development forum in the town of Arlit, near the main northern desert town of Agadez.

"Insecurity... not only kills the economy of a country but the country itself," the president said ahead of the forum on Monday and Tuesday at a ceremony attended by many Tuaregs and Malian Prime Minister Cisse Mariam Kaidama Sidibe.

Last week Tuaregs attacked three cities in northeastern Mali before the army restored local control, with fighting leaving dozens of rebels and three soldiers dead.

Mali's government said the attackers were members of the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), formed in late 2011 and boosted by the return of heavily armed Tuareg rebels from Libya's conflict.

Mali and Niger experienced uprisings as the Tuareg fought for recognition of their identity and an independent state in the 1960s, 1990s and early 2000, with a resurgence between 2006 and 2009.

A more recent source of insecurity is Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), blamed for a string of hostage-takings in the region, particularly of Westerners. It has been holding four French hostages in Arlit, a major uranium mining centre, since September 2010.

Issoufou announced a new development plan for the region that would help reintegrate former Tuareg rebels into Niger society.

At the ceremony, Sidibe Cisse called for co-operation between Mali and Niger including the sharing of resources "in the face of a trans-national threat increasingly characterised by the inter-connection of many terrorist networks".

Mohamed Anako, a figurehead of the Tuareg rebels active in the 1990s, made what he called an "urgent appeal" to Malian Tuaregs seeking autonomy in their desert region "to favour dialogue over violence".

"The current situation in neighbouring Mali rightly worries us," said Anako who is now head of the Agadez regional council.