Rebels in Niger say their bases have been bombed in the north of
country, endangering four French mining employees they took hostage
last week. The rebels have issued a statement condemning the attacks
and questioning the government's motives. For VOA, Brent Latham has
more from our regional bureau in Dakar.
On its Web site,
the Nigerien Movement for Justice, known as MNJ, says its camps were
attacked Tuesday by government helicopters. The statement says it is
the first time that the government has used combat helicopters in an
attack against them in 17 months.
There was no independent confirmation of these attacks. Niger's government has not commented on the rebel statement.
Four employees of a French mining company, three men and one woman, remain in the rebels' captivity.
MNJ is from the ethnic Tuareg group, a nomadic people native to the
Sahara Desert region. Tuareg fighters have also taken up arms against
the government in nearby Mali. Both groups of fighters say they are
struggling for better allocation of resources from what they say is
The co-Director of the Africa Program at the
U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, Jennifer
Cooke, says Niger's government has been slow to address the rebels'
"The Tuareg and in
particular the MNJ group has had a long history of grievances against
the government, particularly in the areas of political representation,
employment, education, and economic and political manipulation from the
government in Niamey," said Cooke.
The presence of international miners in the remote area has become common as the uranium industry has become more lucrative.
government says the rebels are bandits, trying to make money through
violence. The government has also ruled out peace negotiations unless
the rebels first lay down their arms.
But a professor of
anthropology at the University of Bristol, Jeremy Keenan, says the
kidnappings may be an attempt by rebels to open a direct dialogue with
the mining companies.
"This is the
sort of strategy that the [Niger] government fears, because the local
people would much rather work with the companies in an equitable
manner," said Keenan.
Keenan said he felt sure that
the hostages were safe in rebel hands, but he fears government action
may now worsen the situation.
never discount the role of the government in Niger in provoking
situations, which it has a long history of. There is probably a bigger
danger in particular from the government of Niger in terms of their own
agenda, trying to escalate things, rather than a danger from the rebels
themselves," added Keenan.
On Sunday, the rebels
issued a statement saying that the captives would be safe and would be
returned to their families quickly, with a message for the Niger
government and the French company, Areva.