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Niger Rebels Release Four Captives


Rebels in Niger say they have released a Chinese uranium executive who was taken hostage last week and three Nigerien soldiers to the Red Cross. Selah Hennessy reports from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar that Niger's president has called for neighbor states to encourage the ethnic-Tuareg rebels to stop violent attacks that have led to months of unrest in the uranium-rich region.

Zhang Guohua was kidnapped by the rebel Tuareg group the Niger Movement for Justice on July 6 .

The rebel group says they released him Sunday, along with three soldiers who were among about 80 abducted during an attack on an army base in June, in which 13 soldiers were killed .

The abductions are part of a string of violent rebel attacks during recent months.

Seydou Kaocen Maiga is a spokesman for the Niger Movement for Justice. He says the recent wave of violence began as retaliation for the alleged killing of three Tuaregs by government forces in June.

"No one has intervened because the citizens are Tuareg and so the movement acted and they go to that company and killed 15 soldiers and make prisoners of 72 others," he said.

Maiga says the Nigerien government continues to neglect northern Niger and to exploit the Nigerien people, who he says should be given more control over the region' s rich mineral resources.

"There is not democracy in Niger," he said. "They are taking our resources and we have not the right to talk with the government because the government is an anti-democratic one."

Government officials say they will not negotiate with the rebels, who they say are bandits and drug traffickers.

Niger President Mamadou Tandja is looking to neighbor states, including Libya, Algeria, and Nigeria for support in fighting the rebel group.

An analyst with London-based Chatham House, Alex Vines, says the recent wave of violence is not unprecedented.

"I think it will continue," he said. "This is something that happens in cycles."

But he says the Tuaregs risk losing support in the country.

"There is conflict fatigue in most of Niger," he said. "Niger is one of the world's poorest countries and [there] has been frustration at these sorts of incidents. So this is also an issue that the Tuareg elders need to consider."

The Tuaregs are still holding about 40 government soldiers.

Niger's government is also facing protests from journalists in the capital who are protesting what they say is repression of media freedom for their coverage of the conflict.

Niger is rich in mineral resources including iron ore, sliver, platinum and titanium, but ranks last on the United Nations Development Fund index of human development.

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