In Niger, the government and Tuareg rebels are gathering their forces for more battles in the coming weeks and months. At the heart of the conflict is the distribution of revenue from the mining sector, especially uranium.
VOA reporter Phuong Tran has been traveling with the Tuareg rebels for the past 11 days. From an undisclosed location in Niger, she spoke by satellite phone to English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about life among the rebels.
“It’s been a process of waiting. In each place they’ve been trying to gather ammunition to gather weapons. There’s a wide network of Tuaregs who are helping them. And three days ago, while we were traveling, they got news that the Nigerien army had left Agadez with some 70 vehicles and were headed to one of their bases. And MNJ, the Movement of Nigeriens for Justice, which is a group founded by the rebels in February, launched their first attack February the 8tth at a place called Iferouane…and the Nigerien government army is presently there now. They moved in last night. They left Ogades, the closest town, a few hundred kilometers away, a few days ago,” she says.
Tran says three days ago Niger’s President Tanja held a meeting. “And one of the persons in the meeting called here to tell that he wants basically to do away [with], to finish off the problem of the rebels in the next three weeks. This is one of the government’s largest incursions into rebel-held territory. So the group that I’m traveling with…is slowly headed back to the base. And along the way they’re gathering ammunition. And they’re just slowly getting news of how many vehicles have been seized, how many people have been lost. The person I’m traveling with is the vice-president of MNJ…and he’s directing from the field basically.”
At the heart of the conflict are mineral revenues. “They’re basically unhappy with the peace accord of 1995. They say the government is not sharing enough of the uranium royalties with them. They feel that this land, this ancestral land that they have been on, their families have been on for thousands of years, has been taken over post-colonialism, divided up, and that the government is expropriating the uranium…and is not investing enough in the community. In 1995 they were promised 15 percent of uranium royalties. They say to this day that has not been fulfilled. [On] other parts of the peace accord, the government has made progress. They have been able to integrate Tuaregs, the ethnic nomad Tuaregs, into the government….but this rebel group is saying they’re still unhappy,” she says.
Tran adds, “President Tanja has refused to negotiate with them, saying they are bandits or drug traffickers. And until they depose their arms the government will not negotiate with them.” The rebels say they will not negotiate with a government they consider unstable.