The government of Niger has renewed its agreement with French uranium mining company Areva, fixing uranium prices and sealing a deal for the largest-ever investment in Niger. Niger's uranium-rich northern region is also the site of an uprising of nomadic Tuareg rebels who demand a larger cut from uranium profits. Jade Heilmann has more from our West, Central Africa bureau in Dakar.
The French industrial giant Areva has renewed its uranium mining agreement with Niger.
The agreement has fixed uranium prices for the company's existing Cominak and Somair mines for the next two years. The price Niger sells uranium to the mining company will increase by about 50 percent.
The terms of the deal also give the company a go-ahead for a new mining project in Imouraren, which is planned to begin in 2010. This is projected to be the largest investment in Niger history.
Yves Dufour, a spokesman for Areva, says the two mines already operating in Niger are coming to the end of their lifespan and it was therefore very important to renew the deal. He adds it was also important for Niger to negotiate a price that reflected recent worldwide uranium price increases.
The spokesman says the large Imouraren mining project in northern Niger will make the country the number-two world producer of uranium, creating lots of jobs directly and indirectly.
Dufour adds says the company is also taking humanitarian measures in the mining region.
The company's role Niger became controversial in the summer of 2007, when the local head of the company was accused of funding a Tuareg-led rebellion.
The northern region of Niger where the Imouraren mine is to be located is also the site of a Tuareg rebel uprising. The rebels feel they are entitled to a larger cut from the profits of their region's uranium-rich land.
Company Director Dominique Pin, who is French, was exiled from Niger. The company denies all accusations.
Spokeman Dufour says they never wanted to get involved in internal politics.
Analyst for British-based Chatham House, Alex Vines says this is a very important deal for Niger, but adds it is also very important for France.
"Niger is very strategic for France. The majority of uranium for France comes from Niger and indeed French energy security is dependent on predictable consistent sources of uranium," said Vines.
He says during the past year it is uncertain how much the Niger government could get out of a renewed deal, but that 50 percent is a significant gain.
Vines says the Tuareg insurgency is a complicating factor.
"The issue of the Tuaregs became alive again at the end of last year, and I imagine that we will still see further insecurity. But this shows the pragmatic nature of the Niger government and also of Paris, given that for both countries this relationship about the extraction of Uranium is so strategic," he added.
Despite its uranium reserves, Niger is consistently ranked on the Human Development Index among the world's poorest countries.