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Niger's Tuareg Fighters Disagree Over Cease-Fire Agreement


The leader of a large faction of ethnic Tuareg rebels in Niger has declared a cease-fire with the government of Niger on behalf of the Tuaregs of the region. But the head of another rebel group says his fighters are not represented in the deal and will not lay down their arms. Brent Latham has more from our West Africa bureau in Dakar.

The president of the Tuareg rebel group Front of Uplifting Forces, or FFR, says his fighters will not disarm despite the pronouncement of a peace deal.

FFR President Mohamed Ag Aoutchiki said he was not invited to take part in the talks, and that the FFR will not recognize the deal.

Aoutchiki says the head of the Nigerien Movement for Justice rebel group, or MNJ, Aghaly al Alambo can speak only for his group. Aoutchiki says the FFR have had only limited contact with the MNJ, and the two groups disagree on the aims of the rebellion.

Alambo declared this week that Tuareg fighters in Niger and neighboring Mali would lay down their arms. The announcement came after talks in southern Libya with that country's leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

Gadhafi urged Tuaregs across the region to put an end to their insurgency, saying that the rebels are in his words "causing harm to women and children without need." Rebel chief Alambo said the cease-fire would apply to Tuareg factions in Niger and Mali.

Tuareg rebels throughout the region maintain that the governments of Niger and Mali have long neglected their people. But some observers think the Tuareg are more interested in controlling increasingly lucrative smuggling routes through the desert.

The FFR leader says his group has a clear vision of their goals, and they are not willing to abide by the cease-fire agreed to in Libya because it does not address their concerns.

Aoutchiki says the FFR did not take up arms simply to have their struggle ended by third parties. He says the FFR demands French-mediated talks with the government of Niger. The Niger government has refused to meet with the rebels until they disarm.

The disagreement between rebel leaders highlights the factionalized nature of the Tuareg and their fighters. Resistance groups are scattered throughout a vast, remote region of the Sahara. The historic range of the nomadic Tuareg defies contemporary borders, encompassing large parts of Niger, Mali, Libya, and Algeria.

Tuareg resistance has been particularly fierce in northern parts of Mali and Niger, where rebels have intermittently clashed for decades with national army forces. Last month, representatives of another faction of Malian Tuareg agreed to a cease-fire with the Malian government, and agreed to exchange hostages and prisoners, after Algerian mediation.


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