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In Niger, Former Soldiers Defect to Rebel Group


An ex-sergeant of the Nigerien Army says he and more than 10 other former soldiers have joined the rebel movement, Niger Movement for Justice. He is calling on all soldiers to refuse to put themselves in danger for a government he says does not represent the interests of the country. The Niger Movement for Justice has attacked military bases and government installations since launching its uprising in February. Naomi Schwarz has more from Dakar.

Hayo Moussa says he joined the Nigerien Army in 1992, and served loyally for more than 10 years. But after being kicked out and imprisoned in 2002 after a military uprising, in which he says he was unfairly accused of participating, Moussa now says he is joining a rebel movement.

The rebel group, the Niger Movement for Justice was formed in February, and has conducted a series of attacks against the government and military. The movement is led by Tuaregs, a nomadic ethnic minority that says the government does not allow them fair representation or equal rights.

Treaties signed in the mid-1990s ended an earlier period of open revolt among the Tuaregs of Niger and Mali. The Nigerien government has called for international support to help resolve the new wave of rebellion.

Moussa, acting as a spokesman for former soldiers turned rebels, says non-Tuareg Nigeriens also have reason to join the uprising.

Moussa says the government is spending money that was meant for the military. He says that while out in the field, impoverished soldiers are being massacred for no good reason.

He says the most dangerous assignments, in the interior of the country, are given to soldiers from poor families, while those with rich parents are assigned to what he says are less risky missions abroad.

The rebel movement has killed more than 40 soldiers since the uprising began in February and has captured many others.

In July, another group of soldiers, led by Major Kindo Zada, also defected to the rebels. But Africa analyst Rolake Akinola with British-based consulting firm Control Risks says she does not believe the defectors will have much impact on the political situation in Niger.

"There is nothing to suggest that there is a big rebellion imminent in terms of from within the army," said Risks. "I see these as marginalized soldiers."

She says the main issue at the heart of the rebellion seems to be mineral resources. Niger has significant oil and uranium reserves, especially in the north of the country where the rebels are based.

But the people of the land-locked country have yet to see substantial gains from mineral exports, and the country is consistently ranked by the United Nations Development program as one of the world's poorest nations.