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Thursday, January 31, 2008

MNJ Threaten's to escalate attacks on Uranium Mines

NIAMEY, Jan 31 (Reuters) - A leader of Niger's Tuareg rebels promised on Thursday an all-out offensive against the uranium industry including attacks on foreign-run mines and mineral convoys.

Over the last 12 months, the Niger Justice Movement (MNJ) has attacked army convoys and bases, killing around 50 soldiers. This has forced Niger's government to impose a state of alert in the north of the Sahelian country, a major producer of uranium which is used to fuel nuclear reactors.

"We are going to attack the uranium mines, including those belonging to Areva, halt the operation of the plants or the opening up of new sites, and target the road shipments to the sea," Tuareg leader Rhissa Ag Boula told French newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur.

Last year MNJ fighters attacked a northern mine site operated by French nuclear group Areva and also briefly abducted a Chinese uranium executive.

The rebels are demanding more autonomy and a greater share of wealth in their uranium-rich northern region.

A Niger government spokesman rejected the threat in comments to Radio France International. President Mamadou Tandja's administration refuses to recognise the light-skinned nomadic desert rebels, dismissing them as "armed bandits".

Ag Boula criticised the Niger government for "handing out uranium concessions like buns" to companies from France, Canada, Australia, India, South Africa and China.

China had obtained a major part of the new concessions and the Chinese "build mining cities, bringing their own workers with them".

China was selling landmines, vehicles and tanks to the Niger government, Ag Boula said in the interview.

The Rest @ Reuters Africa

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