The authorities in Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital, have set up tighter border controls in the Far North region to guard against infiltration by jihadist Boko Haram fighters from neighboring Nigeria as civilians flee insurgent attacks and a Nigerian military offensive, seeking safety across the border in Cameroon. A rapid response military unit has also been deployed and beefed up in the northern regions and some tourist hotels now have armed guards. "We have revised our security strategy. We have registered all expatriates and established police posts in areas where they work. There are security control posts along the border to reduce illegal entry," said Bob-Iga Emmanuel, the head of police division at the governor's office in the Far North region.
French troops last week launched a new offensive against Islamist rebels in northern Mali—raised questions about whether Paris will in fact reduce the number of its forces in the African country from 3,000 to 1,200 by year's end as planned. Islamist militants have been struggling to regain control of the contested area, known as the Niger Loop, which includes the cities of Gao and Timbuktu. French general staff spokesman Col. Gilles Jaron said the new campaign, dubbed "Operation Hydra," was undertaken joinlty with Malian army forces and troops from MINUSMA, the UN force for the country. "It is the first time we have seen forces of significant size working together," Jaron said. (NYT, IBT, Al Jazeera, Oct. 24)
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said May 28 during a stop in Niger that the attackers who carried out last week's double suicide bombings on a military camp and uranium mine likely came from southern Libya—indicating that jihadist forces driven from north Mali have taken refuge across borders in the lawless spaces of the Sahara. He also said they had inside help, saying: "The terrorist groups benefited from a certain level of complicity." Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou's also said the jihadists infiltrated from Libya.
It was one year ago that Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) seized control of the vast desert north of Mali, and declared an independent state in the remote territory which had long been a sort of internal colony. But within weeks, control of Azawad was usurped by jihadist factions, who drove the MNLA from the territory. After months of harsh sharia rule in northern Mali, France intervened late last year, helped government forces drive back the jihadists, and established tenuous control over the north. Sporadic fighting continues, and the MNLA have joined the offensive against the Islamists, while stressing their independence from the French and government forces. The MNLA now have control of the town of Kidal, in an uneasy alliance with French-backed Chadian troops. But French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, visting the capital Bamako last week, said the MNLA will have to accept being disarmed and "confined." An AP report of April 7 noted celebrations by Tuaregs on the anniversary of the MNLA's takeover, but also implied that the rebel group has abandoned its separatist aspirations. Moussa ag-Assaride, the MNLA's communications chief, was cited as saying he knew that many in northern Mali are not aware that the group officially is no longer seeking independence. "But that doesn't stop the population from showing their joy," he said.
Workers started a 72-hour strike at the Somina uranium mine in northern Niger March 20, demanding better wages and the release of unpaid bonuses. A spokesman for the Syntramines union told Reuters 680 workers have downed tools for the strike, which could be extended to an open-ended stoppage if demands were not met. Somina is run by the uranium unit of the China National Nuclear Corporation, Sino-U, in a partnership with Niger's government. The mine, in the remote Agadez region, was established in 2007, producing 700 tons annually. Niger is also top uranium supplier to France, which is expanding operations. Areva’s Imouraren mine is expected to more than double the French company's current production in Niger when it comes online in 2014, with expected output of 5,000 tons per year. (Reuters, March 21; Asia Daily Wire, Press TV, March 20)
Some of the worst enemies of the Tuareg people are Westerners who make their livelihood by spreading fear and hatred for an entire population that they do not know. Several days ago, USA Today published an article [Feb. 14] by a young American reporter who wrote that "Tuaregs have long kept slaves," and implied that Tuaregs are still "taking slaves" today and holding them captive. This is incorrect. The Tuaregs do not own slaves today, and do not capture people or hold them as slaves. The reporter based her article largely on propaganda she heard from one individual in southern Mali.
President Obama announced Feb. 22 that about 100 US troops have been mobilized to Niger to help set up a new base for supposedly unarmed Predator drones to conduct surveillance in the region. The new drone base is to be located for now in the capital, Niamey. The only permanent US base in Africa is in Djibouti, but Niamey may now constitute a second. (NYT, Feb. 22) Also Feb. 22, Chad announced that 13 of its soldiers and 65 Islamist rebels were killed in a fierce battle in the mountain region of Adrar des Ifoghas, on Mali's border with Algeria. In other fighting that day, at Tessalit, on the edge of the mountains, two vehicles carrying civilians and members of the MNLA Tuareg rebel group exploded, killing three and wounding several others. (VOA, Feb. 22) A second car bomb attack in Khalil, on the Algerian border, left five MNLA fighters dead. (Reuters, France24, Feb. 22)
The US military is preparing to establish a drone base in "northwest Africa"—likely be located in Niger along the eastern border of Mali, where French forces are currently waging a campaign against jihadist rebels, anonymous officials told the New York Times Jan. 28. The base would supposedly facilitate intelligence gathering by unarmed surveillance drones on al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and related militant networks. If the plan is approved, up to 300 US military personnel and contractors could be sent to staff the base.