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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) Brings the War to the Captial

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Niger's government on Wednesday accused Tuareg-led rebels of laying landmines in the capital Niamey which killed a local radio director, the first such attack in the city since the uprising began almost a year ago.

The security forces defused a second device early on Wednesday, hours after private radio director Abdou Mahaman Jeannot was killed when his Toyota car drove over a mine in a residential suburb on the western edge of the city.

The government blamed Tuareg rebels who launched an uprising last February to demand greater autonomy for their homelands in the barren, uranium-rich north. The insurgents have mainly targeted army patrols and remote garrisons in the Sahara.
"This attack can only be the work of armed bandits in the north who are trying to establish a campaign of urban terrorism because they are incapable of fighting a conventional war in the region where they launched it," Communication Minister Mohamed Ben Omar said in a communique broadcast on state radio.

The rebel Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), which has killed at least 49 soldiers since launching its revolt last year, vehemently denied responsibility for laying the mines, instead accusing the authorities of trying to tarnish its image.

"This regime which has lost any sense of direction is laying mines everywhere it needs to in order to accuse the fighters for justice, who condemn the use of mines particularly against citizens," the MNJ said on its Web site.

Ben Omar called on the population to set up "vigilance brigades" to fight against "these new types of assassins".

The mines were placed next to a cemetery on the western edge of Niamey. The second device was defused some 200 metres (656 ft) from the charred wreckage of the Toyota car in which Jeannot died shortly before midnight (2300 GMT) on Tuesday.

A woman who was also travelling in the car was seriously injured and taken to hospital but discharged herself after receiving treatment for shrapnel wounds, witnesses said.

Niger's government said in November the Tuareg-led rebels were planning to widen their campaign from attacks in the desert to include "acts of urban terrorism".

The government accused the group of widening its offensive to towns and cities in December, when two civilians were killed by landmines -- one in the central town of Tahoua, another in Maradi, some 550 km (340 miles) east of Niamey.

The MNJ denied responsibility for those attacks, blaming them on "Niger army militias" they said were aiming to discredit the insurgency and justify a security crackdown.

The Rest @ Reuters Africa

Civilian deaths during the rebellion have fuelled anger agalinst the Tuaregs and other nomadic northerners among non-Tuareg sectors of Niger's racially mixed population

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