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Niger Tense as Government Breaks Off Negotiations with Rebel Soldiers


The government of Niger says it has broken off negotiations with soldiers who have staged a series of mutinies across the West African country for more than a week. Government officials also say loyalist troops have retaken control of a garrison in the east of the country.

Niger government soldiers raided the garrison at N'Guigmi, about 1,400 kilometers east of the capital, Niamey. Mutineers had been entrenched there for several days after government troops earlier chased them out of the town of Diffa, where they began a mutiny more than a week ago, demanding better pay.

Government officials had traveled to N'Guimi and were negotiating with the mutineers who, they said, were holding a number of hostages.

In a broadcast late Tuesday, Niger's Defense Minister Sabiou Dadi Gao announced negotiations had failed after mutineers demanded an official guarantee that they would not be expelled from the military once the dispute was settled.

The defense minister said that after several hours of heated debate over these demands, negotiations broke down. Troops took control of the town of N'Guimi and stormed the garrison. He said officials who had been held by the mutineers were liberated. Law and order, the defense minister said, were re-established.

A number of mutineers were arrested during the raid. Troops on Wednesday continued to hunt for others who escaped into the desert.

The government's statement about the raid at N'Guimi was not verified by independent sources. The country's journalists remain under severe restrictions imposed by President Tandja earlier this week after mutineers staged an attack Monday against armories in the capital.

In his decree, the president threatened to suspend or jail any reporter who comments on the unrest.

The move has prompted angry protests from journalists. Representatives of foreign media organizations in Niger issued a statement Wednesday denouncing the president's action. Correspondents called on the president to repeal his decree and cease all pressure on journalists.

President Tandja on Tuesday vowed to punish those responsible for leading the revolts, which have marked the most serious unrest the country has experienced since he came to power nearly three years ago. Government officials have not said how many people might have been killed or wounded in the violence of recent days.

Although the government says it has control of the situation, there remain concerns about the number of mutineers still hiding in the desert. Officials also say they have yet to find a truckload of weapons that mutineers took from an armory in Niamey during their attack on Monday.

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