News / Africa

Tuareg Leaders in Niger and Mali Urge Tuareg in Libya to Work With NTC

A nomad from the famed Tuareg tribe of the Sahara Desert brings his herd for vaccination to a team of US special forces handing out aid near the town of Gao in northeastern Mali. (File Photo)
A nomad from the famed Tuareg tribe of the Sahara Desert brings his herd for vaccination to a team of US special forces handing out aid near the town of Gao in northeastern Mali. (File Photo)

Tuareg leaders in Niger and Mali are urging Tuareg fighters in Libya to abandon Moammar Gadhafi and work with the country's new leaders.

The change of power in Libya could further destabilize Africa's Sahelian region, where al-Qaida affiliated terrorists are already active.

Tuareg legislators from Mali and Niger say Libya's interim council has promised not to target Tuareg members of the Gadhafi army.

By urging those fighters to join Libya's new leaders, Sahelian governments are hoping to avoid a mass movement south that would worsen conditions in an already food-insecure region and could benefit al-Qaida affiliated terrorists.

Despite assurances from Libya's new leaders, the head of Niger and Mali's Tuareg Contact Group, Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh, says Africans in Libya still face the threat of reprisals over their past support for Colonel Gadhafi.

Assaleh says Tuareg leaders in Niger and Mali do not doubt their partners in Libya's National Transitional Council, but war is war. There are always things that slip away, he says, uncontrollable elements when there are so many things going on. There are still two or three weeks needed to put everything in order, Assaleh says, but Sahelian Tuaregs are confident in the future.

Thousands of Tuaregs from Niger and Mali settled in Libya during Gadhafi's rule. Many worked as migrant labor. Some joined his military. As the Gadhafi regime crumbled, some Tuareg troops fled Libya. Malian parliamentarian Assaleh says Tuareg leaders are working to ensure their safe return.

Assaleh says some of those Tuareg troops retreated to Mali and Niger, and Tuareg leaders are asking them to return to their barracks in Libya to avoid having the conflict spill across Libya's borders into the Sahel.

Mohamed Anacko heads Niger's Agadez Regional Council as is the vice president of the bi-national Contact Group.

Anacko says Niger and Mali are very fragile states that can not absorb the influx of hundreds of thousands of people. So the Contact Group is working with Libya's new leaders to create trust with Tuareg fighters from the former regime so those fighters do not return to Niger and Mali with their weapons.

Anacko says it is the hope of the Contact Group that, in the coming days, Niger will be able to negotiate the safe return of Tuareg soldiers to Libya.

Anacko's Agadez region is one of the most affected by both the collapse of the Gadhafi regime and the growth of Sahelian terrorism. Niger's government says the area is already hosting nearly 80,000 migrants who fled Libya.

Security forces in Niger recovered detonators, more than 600 kilograms of semtex explosives and $90,000 in cash during a shoot out with suspected terrorists in June.

Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou says the arms came from Libya and were intended for al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which is responsible for a string of kidnappings and ambushes across the Sahel.

Regional concern about the spread of terrorism is growing with Nigeria's government saying those responsible for last month's bombing of United Nations headquarters in the capital met with al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists in Somalia.

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