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US Gravely Concerned About  UN Envoy Kidnapping in Niger

The United States says it is gravely concerned about the disappearance of the U.N. envoy to Niger while he was on a visit to the African nation.

A State Department spokesman, Robert Wood, says the United States has offered the U.N. Secretary-General as well as the governments of Niger and Canada its full support in finding Robert Fowler.

Fowler is a Canadian citizen who disappeared in Niger Sunday along with his Canadian assistant, Louis Guay, and their driver. Officials say a vehicle in which the three were traveling in was found abandoned about 50 kilometers from the capital, Niamey.

A rebel group in Niger has issued conflicting statements about whether it is responsible for the disappearance of the U.N. envoy.

On its website Tuesday, the Restoration Forces Front issued two statements. The first, signed by the group's self-proclaimed "war commissioner" Rhissa ag Boula, claimed responsibility. But a later statement signed by the group's leader, Mohamed ag Aoutchiki Kriska, said the Restoration Forces Front was in no way responsible.

Niger government officials say Fowler, who is usually based in Canada, was on private business. But U.N. officials say he was in Niger to meet with government officials.

Kidnappings are frequent in Africa's Sahel region south of the Sahara, which is awash with illegal weapons, rebellions and trafficking.