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Niger Airs Concerns Over West's Libya Intervention

  • Julia Ritchey

An F-16 jet fighter taking off from the NATO airbase in Aviano, Italy this week

An F-16 jet fighter taking off from the NATO airbase in Aviano, Italy this week

Civil society groups in Niger are speaking out against the Western-backed military intervention against its northern neighbor Libya and the country's leader Moammar Gadhafi, where fighting between pro-Gadhafi forces and rebels has caused thousands of refugees to flood across its border.

Niger's government has yet to take an official position on the Western no-fly zone being enforced in Libya, but opinions in the rest of the country and the region are mixed.

Civil groups had planned a pro-Gadhafi demonstration last Friday, but were barred by authorities at the last minute. A similar protest in the capital of neighboring Mali last week drew thousands.

Several Niger citizens said they were angry with what they believe is an attack on Libya's sovereignty.

This man says it's a condemnable act and unreasonable and says that right now France and America are beating up on Libya. He says these are our brothers by blood and any problem that touches Libya touches all people of Niger.

Another man says he believes Western powers are after oil. He said Colonel Gadhafi may not be perfect, but at least he distributes the oil wealth to his citizens.

Some news reports have suggested Gadhafi may be using trained mercenaries from Mali, Niger and other African countries to fight anti-government rebels.

A political figure and former Ambassador of Niger to Libya, Bashar Issoufou, said it's important to understand that Gadhafi has spent years building a network of allies on the continent.

He says when Gadhafi first came to power he believed strongly in the idea of Arab nationalism, being influenced by former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. But after President Nasser, he had problems with the Arabs and turned to Africa instead. He began pushing for a unified Africa with one government and one army.

Issoufou says he too is skeptical of the West's motives for intervening.

He says what happened in Tunisia and Egypt gave Western countries the perfect opportunity to take advantage of Libya's vast oil reserves. But he says as long as Colonel Ghadafi is in power, he will be controlling it.

Indicative of how the continent is split, the African Union on Tuesday pulled out of a London summit on Libya after its members could not agree over its position on Western-led military involvement.

Moammar Gadhafi is one of the largest donors to the AU. However, in perhaps its most vocal reproach of the embattled Libyan leader since the crisis began, the AU last week called for a peaceful political transition that leads to democratic elections.

A government spokesman says it is following the situation in Libya “with great concern.” The spokesman says officials are working with its embassy in Tripoli to repatriate and evacuate Niger citizens who are trapped in the country and to help refugees. The U.N. Refugee Agency says more than 10,700 refugees have fled from Libya into Niger, most of them women and children.

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