Niger arrests 3 for plot

2010-10-17 13:36

Niamey - The former number two of Niger's ruling junta and two other senior officers are being held for plotting against the regime, including elimination of the country's leader, official sources said on Saturday.

All three were being questioned by gendarmes in Niamey, while a fourth unnamed officer was being sought, two weeks before the country votes in a referendum to pave the way for the return to civilian rule.

A security source said Colonel Abdoulaye Badie, former deputy to junta chief General Salou Djibou, and Lieutenant Colonel Abdou Sidikou were arrested on Friday after several weeks of surveillance and investigations.

Another source in the president's office said Colonel Amadou Diallo, a former military prosecutor, was arrested on Saturday, the day after being sacked from his job as equipment minister.

"They are accused of attempting to destabilise the regime, a plot they had been hatching for three months," the security source said. "The project was to go so far as to eliminate" Djibo.

The source said the aim was to delay the transition to civilian rule, adding that there had been long-running splits within the junta on the length of this period.

"President Djibo will make a speech to the nation next week to explain the situation and calm feelings," the source said.

Djibo, who overthrew civilian president Mamadou Tandja in February, has pledged to hand power to a democratically-elected government. The transition process is due to kick off on October 31 and culminate with a presidential election on January 31 2011.

The planned handover is set for April 6 2011, when the new president is due to be sworn in.

Rumours of a coup have swirled in Niamey over the past few weeks. For several days, the military presence in the capital and its suburbs has been stepped up, with larger patrols, particularly at night.

Evidence of splits within the junta emerged on October 8, when Diallo was removed from his post as military tribunal prosecutor and Sidikou was sacked as commander of the former presidential guard.

Meanwhile the head of the national election commission, Ghousmane Abdourahmane, warned Saturday that the referendum would have to be postponed if more funds were not provided to stage it.

Lack of resources

He said lack of resources was delaying the issue of voters' cards and the provision of equipment including ballot boxes.

International aid of 41 million dollars has been pledged to fund the voting process, but Abdourahmane said there were difficulties in obtaining the cash.

The junta won widespread public support after the February coup when it pledged to turn the west African country, which ranks last on the Human Development Index, into a beacon of "good democracy and governance".

Tandja was ousted by the military after he took a series of steps to prolong his term in office beyond the end of his elected mandate, which was in December last year.

The junta has so far refused to release Tandja, whom it is holding in a villa within the presidential compound.