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Saturday, December 20, 2008

UN Envoy to Niger Robert Fowler Kidnapped

19 December, 2008

  • The UN Reports that Robert Fowler has disappeared. ( See the AFP Article below)
  • the Restoration Forces Front (FFR) claimed responsibility on their website, but later denied it to a reporter
  • The MNJ has a post on their Website, in French, caliming to be very concerned about the disappearance, saying Robert Fowler is a peace maker for whom they have "high esteem".
  • They infer the government had something to do with the disappearance, but that is the MNJ's usual response, and have incorrectly blamed the government in the past.
  • They also suggest that Louis Gay, another UN diplomat may been with Robert Fowler when he disappeared.

This visit to a Canadian owned Goldmine West of Naimey (Fowler is a Canadian citizen) was apparently not on his itinerary. It may be that they were simply mistaken as less important foreigners, and kidnapped at the initiative of a low level commander, and the leadership may be unaware of who has them.

Let us see how this unfolds.

-Shimron

NIAMEY (AFP) — The United Nations said Friday that Robert Fowler, its special envoy to Niger whose disappearance west of the capital Niamey was announced Monday, was on an official visit.
"Mr Fowler came here as part of an official UN visit but we were not aware of his trip out of town to the Samira gold mine," said Modibo Traore, head of the local office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"Mr Fowler is the UN secretary general's special representative for Niger and in that capacity he is responsible for humanitarian problems and for finding a solution to the (Tuareg) rebellion," he added.

Last Friday, the day after his arrival in Niamey, Fowler meet with Interior Minister Albade Abouba and Justice Minister Dagra Mamadou, Traore added.

Traore's statement echoed that of the spokeswoman of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who appointed Fowler -- a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations -- last July.
"I can confirm to you that Mr Fowler, as special envoy for Niger, was on an official mission," said the spokeswoman, Marie Okabe, on Thursday at a daily press briefing at UN headquarters in New York.

She refused to say more about his disappearance or his appointment, which Ban had made without an announcement.

In revealing the disappearance and feared kidnapping of Fowler, 64, and another Canadian diplomat, Louis Guay, Niger's Communications Minister Mohamed ben Omar stated Tuesday the UN envoy was not in Niger on official business.

Officially Niamey has never called on the UN to mediate with Tuareg rebels, whom it normally dismisses as "bandits" and "drug traffickers".

The Tuareg, who live in the remote northern deserts of Niger, say they are fighting for autonomy and a slice of the uranium wealth that lies beneath the sands of their region.
Ben Omar said Fowler had requested an invitation to attend Niger's 50th anniversary celebrations that held Thursday in Tillaberi, west of Niamey.

Just before his disappearance Fowler visited Samira, a gold mine west of Niamey majority owned by two Canadian companies: Etruscan Resources and Semafo Inc.

"Yes, they came here," the Canadian in charge of the mine told AFP Friday by phone from the site.

Semafo had initially said it was unable to confirm whether Fowler and Guay had visited the mine because there no record of any official request to visit was logged at the company's Saint-Laurent, Quebec headquarters.

On Tuesday, the Restoration Forces Front (FFR), a Niger Tuareg rebel group, claimed on its website that it had kidnapped the Canadians. But a few hours later, its leader denied to AFP that his group was responsible.

Fowler and Guay, plus their driver, disappeared Sunday around 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of the capital Niamey around Tillaberi, the very region where Niger celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence Thursday.

Their vehicle was found the following morning at the side of the road, facing towards Niamey, with the engine and an indicator running and the doors wide open, a gendarme told AFP.

Ben Omar said exceptional security measures were in place along the Niamey-Tillaberi road, in view of the anniversary celebrations.

He also said the car had been found near the jetty for the ferry across the Niger river, a claim denied by witnesses with businesses at the jetty.

Fowler and Guay took the ferry to go to Samira. Their vehicle was seen driving back off it late Sunday afternoon and they headed back towards Niamey.

Ben Omar said Fowler's official UN vehicle was followed by a car with Togolese numberplates when it left Niamey.

This second car has not been found and its significance to the incident has never been explained.

The Rest @ AFP Africa

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