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Thursday, August 23, 2007

NIAMEY, Aug 23 (Reuters) -

Gunmen in northern Niger thought to be members of a Tuareg-led rebel group opened fire on a bus carrying 60 passengers on Thursday before stealing their goods and setting light to the vehicle, military sources said.

The attackers opened fire to stop the bus on the road between the remote desert towns of Agadez and Arlit, where nomadic rebels have been fighting an insurgency since February, but did not shoot directly at those on board, the sources said.

"There were around 60 passengers who were robbed. The attackers then burned the vehicle before withdrawing," one of the military sources said, adding there were no casualties.
"The security forces are pursuing them."

The assailants were believed to be members of the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), which has killed at least 45 soldiers in the West African nation's remote Saharan north since February as it pushes demands for greater economic development.

MNJ representatives were not immediately available to comment.
Several civilian and army vehicles have hit mines, virtually halting road traffic and bringing the region's local economy to a grinding halt. Travel between towns is banned after dark and foreigners must be accompanied by an army escort.

The region around Agadez, more than 1,000 km (620 miles) from the capital Niamey, is home to some of the world's largest reserves of uranium but has long been notoriously unstable.

Light-skinned Tuareg tribesmen waged a rebellion in the 1990s demanding greater autonomy from a black-African dominated government. The MNJ says the peace deals that ended that insurgency have never been fully implemented.

Niger's government refuses to recognise the MNJ, dismissing them as common bandits and drug traffickers, but has called on neighbouring states in the Sahara to try to cut off its supplies of weapons, food and fuel.

The Rest @ Reuters Africa

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