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Niger to Deport 100,000 Arabs to Chad

Niger has ordered the expulsion of about 100,000 Arabs who fled conflict in neighboring Chad in recent decades. Critics say a mass deportation would violate human rights.

The Niger government says plans for the deportations are being finalized and will take place in a matter of days.

Government spokesman Mohammad Ben Omar speaking from Niamey blames the mainly nomadic Arab shepherds for sometimes armed clashes with black African farmers in the country's east. He says deporting the Arabs is necessary to maintain stability there.

The decision was denounced by Arab members of parliament, who called for the United Nations to step in.

Ibrahama Kane, a lawyer with the International Center for the Protection of Human Rights in London, says the government's plan would violate several treaties on the treatment of refugees, including the African Charter.

Kane says officials in Niamey should help the Arab shepherds and black farmers co-exist peacefully.

"The role of the government is to try to find a solution to those conflicts, and not just to decide that 'one is right and one is wrong and I will deport the other one,'" he said. "I think that this is a very simplistic way of finding a solution to this very important issue."

A drought in the 1970s and political instability in neighboring Chad during the 1980s and 1990s caused many Arabs to flee across the border into eastern Niger. Estimates of Niger's Arab population vary from 50,000 to 150,000.