Ex-minister accused of killing

2004-02-17 18:10

Niamey - Former tourism minister Rhissa Ag Boula, a key figure in the 1990s rebellion of Niger's northern nomad people, has been arrested in connection with the apparent political assassination of a ruling-party militant, court sources said on Tuesday.

In a separate development, the government announced it was firing the mayor of Niamey, Bibata Barry Niandou, the fourth person to occupy that post in the past four years.

Ag Boula was fired last week without explanation.

The sources said he was arrested on Sunday in connection with an investigation into the assassination on January 26 of Adam Amangue, 26, a militant in President Mamadou Tandja's ruling National Movement for Society and Development.

Amangue was shot three times at point-blank range as he left a party office in Tchirozerine, in the homeland of the nomadic Tuaregs, which also is the seat of Ag Boula's power.

Ag Boula was a key figure in a five-year Tuareg rebellion, which ended in a peace accord in 1995 that brought him into the government.

Doesn't want to be an embarrassment

Two suspects in the killing were arrested earlier, according to judicial sources.

Ag Boula denied any involvement in the murder the day before his departure from the government.

"I am not a killer," he said. "I was a combatant at one stage in my life, but I signed the peace agreement, and it is not now that I am coming to upset it."

He said he had asked to be relieved of his functions in order not to be an embarrassment to the regime, although he added he had nothing with which to reproach himself.

"Every time something happens up north, they see the hand of Rhissa," he said.

"Whichever way you look at it, I am not involved in this assassination."

Since joining the government, Ag Rhissa's powers have been diminished.

His tourism portfolio now comes under the ministry of transport, and his responsibility for national handicrafts has been given to the ministry of commerce.

In announcing the firing of Barry Niandou as mayor of Niamey, the government said in a communique that she was being replaced by Jules Ouguet, an aide to the president. He was Tandja's special adviser on the fight against HIV/Aids.

Barry, a lawyer, had just begun a large-scale operation to rid the capital's streets of unlicensed stalls and traders ahead of the Francophone Games scheduled to be held here next year.