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Niger Military Appoints New Heads of State-Run Oil, Uranium Firms

Niger millitary junta spokesman, Colonel Gokoye Abdul Karimou, speaking on state television in Niamey (file photo)

Niger millitary junta spokesman, Colonel Gokoye Abdul Karimou, speaking on state television in Niamey (file photo)

Replacements precede junta's release of 14 allies of former President Mamadou Tandja accused of subversion

Niger's military rulers have released more than a dozen members of the former civilian government and replaced the heads of state-run companies that control the country's oil and uranium reserves.

The former government ministers were arrested one week ago in connection with what soldiers say were subversive activities meant to undermine the military junta's transition to civilian rule.

Interior Minister Ousmane Cissé says the 14 allies of former President Mamadou Tandja were released in the interest of national reconciliation.

Cisse says the military will establish a transitional consultative council to put the country on the path to democracy and development. He says everyone understands the need for national reconciliation, but there will be no impunity for crimes by the previous government and those former ministers now released will remain under constant surveillance.

Since taking power in a February coup, the ruling Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy has pledged to hold elections once a new constitution is drafted to replace laws that former president Tandja used to expand his power and extend his time in office.

One of the reasons Mr. Tandja gave for staying beyond the end of his second five-year term in December was the need to finish work on a huge French uranium mine and a Chinese-financed oil refinery.

Soldiers say he misused those natural resources to benefit the former ruling party at the expense of the people of Niger, more than half of whom are now facing hunger because of poor harvests.

The military is moving to take control of the country's economy by replacing Tandja allies at key state-run firms, including those that control uranium and oil reserves.

The government owns one-third of the huge Imouraren uranium mine that the French energy firm Areva says should start production in 2013.

China's National Petroleum Corporation is pumping oil from the southwest Agadem block in exchange for building Niger's first refinery at Zinder. The state-owned firm paid a $270-million signing bonus through the former president's son, who was then the commercial attache' at Niamey's embassy in Hong Kong.