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Niger Rebels Vow Direct Attacks on Uranium Mines, Oil Companies


Friday marks one year since Nigerien rebels renewed violence against the government, a continuation of an almost two-decade desert conflict. They say they will launch direct strikes to shut down uranium mines and oil exploration in Niger's north. Phuong Tran has this report from VOA's West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

Rebel vice president Acharif Ag Mohamed El Moctar says the group has not attacked uranium and oil sites directly, because it hoped the government would negotiate.

One year into the conflict, the government continues to dismiss the rebels as bandits and traffickers, refusing to negotiate until they disarm.

Moctar says the rebels will increase pressure through violence.

"We are going to change our strategy in order to stop every economic activity in all this area, uranium, petrol and everything," he said.

The group has launched attacks against electrical companies providing energy to the mines, but has not directly targeted the mines.

Some civilians live within 10 kilometers of the mines. Moctar dismisses the dangers of radioactive material that could contaminate local communities.

Speaking in French, he says civilians in the conflict zone know the dangers of living in an area the government has placed under a state of alert. The rebel leader says those who have not joined the movement are considered its enemies.

Niger government spokesman Mohamed Ben Omar dismisses the rebels' threats.

Omar says this is not a new threat and he does not believe the rebels will be able to carry out direct attacks. He says the state will prevent industry shutdowns.

Niger's government has increasingly deployed surveillance planes that fly in pairs over the rebels' base in the Air Mountains.

The rebels launched the Movement of Nigeriens for Justice and its attacks one year ago, saying the government has not honored its promises to invest more in northern communities. The north, where most of the country's nomadic Tuaregs live, holds most of Niger's mineral wealth.

Earlier this year, long-time mining contractor in Niger, the French company Areva-Cogema, increased the royalties it pays to Niger by 50 percent to more than $130 per kilogram.

Despite unrest in the mining area, Areva says it plans to invest $1 billion to develop what will be Niger's biggest industrial mining project.

Despite its mineral wealth, Niger has the worst living conditions in the world, according to the United Nations.

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