Long-delayed peace deal for Niger's restive Tuaregs
Ten years after Niger's government and insurgents signed an accord to end the Tuareg rebellion, authorities have launched an economic assistance program for more than 3,000 ex-combatants in the country's north—the final phase as laid out in the peace pact. Under the project, 3,160 former combatants will be granted around US $300 each in the form of micro-loans for projects in animal husbandry, local crafts and vegetable gardening, said Michele Falavigna, Niger representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
The UN says the project was held up for lack of funds and lingering instability in the remote north of Niger. The $1.8-million project is funded by France, the United States and Libya. The micro-credit project—to be run jointly by Niger's government and UNDP—will be implemented in the northern Air and Azawak regions.
Since the 1995 signing of the peace accord, nomad groups have occasionally claimed responsibility for attacks in the north, complaining that the government was not holding up its end of the agreement.
The Tuareg rebellion began in this region in 1990, with an attack on Tchintabaraden, 800 kilometers north Niamey, and later spread to the east of the country, where it was joined by other nomadic groups such as the Toubou.
The uprising centred what rebels called inequitable economic policy and excessive centralization of the government. The Tuareg rebels wanted a federal system that would allow them to run their own affairs in their mineral-rich areas.
The government and rebels signed the peace agreement in Niamey following mediation by Algeria, Burkina Faso—which both share borders with Niger—and France.
The accord called for government decentralization measures, and the integration of former combatants into the defense and security forces, public service, universities and secondary schools. Around 800 former combatants have been integrated into the public services, but the reintegration of the great majority of the ex-rebels had yet to be achieved.
"We rejoice over the project and hope the available resources will be increased," Mohamed Akotey, a former chief of the rebellion and now Niger's high commissioner for the restoration of peace, said on national radio.
The launch of the project came a month after Niger's President Mamadou Tandja nominated Akotey to lead the government office for the restoration of peace.
UNDP's Falavigna noted that lingering insecurity was also cause for the delay in the loan project.
In the Air mountain range 1,000 kilometres northeast of Niamey, where international companies have been prospecting for oil, security forces have clashed several times over the last two years with what the government called common banditry. But the culprits claimed to be Tuareg rebels of the now-dissolved Air and Azawak Liberation Front (FLAA). (IRIN, Oct. 14 via AllAfrica)
Energy Bulletin reported Dec. 17, 2004 that the China National Petroleum Corp. is exploring in the Niger's north, but is concerned about banditry, unrest and Islamic militancy. The story also noted that West Africa's emerging strategic importance has prompted the US State Department's Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorist Initiative (TSCTI), which "has trained troops in former French colonies Niger, Mauritania, Mali and Chad to act on US-supplied intelligence about the movements of suspected extremists."