Tuareg-led rebels in Niger’s desert north attacked a military convoy carrying food and provisions to the oasis town of Iferouane, killing at least three soldiers, the government said late on Tuesday.
The rebel Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), which has killed at least 49 soldiers since launching a revolt in February, said its fighters destroyed nine military vehicles and all those on board in the attack between the towns of Arlit and Iferouane.
But the Defence Ministry denied this version of events, saying three soldiers had been killed and 10 injured when their vehicles ran over landmines.
”Eight of the bandits who were laying the mines were killed and one of their vehicles was destroyed,” the ministry said in a statement broadcast on state television late on Tuesday.
The MNJ launched its campaign in Niger’s north, which contains some of the world’s largest reserves of uranium, 10 months ago to demand greater autonomy and a larger share of the wealth from its natural resources.
This year’s insurgency echoes a revolt by the light-skinned Tuaregs against a black African-dominated government in the 1990s. That rebellion ended with a peace deal in 1995 but the MNJ says the terms of the pact have not been fully implemented.
Niger’s government refuses to recognise the MNJ as a political movement, dismissing its fighters as drug traffickers and common bandits.
The conflict has turned northern Niger into a military zone subject to curfews and military road-blocks and largely off-limits to foreigners, stifling a local economy which long relied on tourism and the ability to get produce to market.
Local tour operators, many of whom have now abandoned the region around the ancient Saharan trading town of Agadez, say the widespread use of landmines in the area will make it difficult for tourism to recover even if the conflict ends. – Reuters