A leader of Niger's Tuareg rebels is threatening an offensive against uranium mining operations in the country.

In an interview with a French newspaper published Thursday, Rhissa Ag Boula says his group will target uranium mines operated by French energy company Areva and others.

Ag Boula says the rebels will try to stop uranium plants from operating, prevent new mines from opening up, and seize convoys transporting uranium.

Areva has been operating two uranium mines in Niger for the past 40 years.  France's main electricity company relies on the uranium to run its nuclear power plants.

A Niger government spokesman dismissed the rebel leader's comments as propaganda in an interview with Radio France Internationale.

The French news agency AFP quotes a French foreign ministry official, Pascale Andreani, as saying Paris hopes Areva will continue extracting uranium in Niger.  Andreani says Areva's work contributes to development in Niger and is in the interests of its people.

Areva also says it is "not the enemy" of anyone in the country.

Areva renewed its mining agreement with Niger's government earlier this month and agreed to develop a third mine that would represent the largest investment in Niger's history.

Niger is one of the world's poorest countries, despite sitting on some of the planet's largest uranium deposits.

Ag Boula was a leader of a previous Tuareg rebellion in northern Niger in the early 1990s and served as a tourism minister following a 1995 peace agreement.  The Tuareg rebels began a new uprising early last year and have since killed around 50 soldiers.