NIGER: Mutineers detain prefect, mayor and other dignitaries

Niamey, 1 August 2002 (IRIN) - Army mutineers in Diffa, 1500 km east of the Niger capital, Niamey, were on Thursday reported to have detained various defense, security and civilian officials, including the prefect of the region, a parliamentarian and the town's mayor.

The soldiers began the mutiny on Wednesday to press demands for improved living conditions and the payment of allocations owed to them. A resident of the town said on Thursday on Radio Anfani, a private broadcaster based in the capital, that people were worried and the soldiers seemed very angry. The situation was described as extremely tense. Soldiers were going around the town sporadically firing their weapons.

Niger's government decreed a state of emergency in the region of Diffa and on Thursday, gendarmes in Niamey arrested three army officers who had been close to late president Ibrahima Bare Mainassare, assassinated in 1999.

The government said on Wednesday night after an emergency cabinet meeting that the mutiny had become a rebellion against the state. It said the mutineers had isolated the department by cutting telephone communications with the rest of the country and that they had attacked people's property and projects. They also occupied a local radio station which has since limited its programming to military music.

The government said the mutineers had called for the dismissal of the armed forces chief of general staff, Moumouni Boureima, and demanded that Prime Minister Hama Amadou travel to Diffa. However, mutineers contacted by the media denied this, saying they had nothing to do with the officers arrested in Niamey and that they had never called for Boureima's dismissal. They also claimed to have the support of other garrisons in the east of the country.

The government said it would not allow soldiers to defy their officers, and that it would restore order and discipline. "The military high command has received orders to free the detained civilian and military authorities without conditions, as quickly as possible and by any means it judges necessary, and to restore discipline and obedience in the barracks,” it said.

Well-informed sources said military reinforcements were being prepared on Thursday in Niamey for deployment to Diffa to free the hostages.

A history of mutinies and army interventions

Niger has often had mutinies by soldiers demanding better living conditions and the dismissal of their officers. Such movements usually start in barracks in the north or east before spreading to the rest of the country. In some cases, the demands end up becoming political.

On 15 April 1974, Niger’s armed forces announced its entry on the political scene with a coup d’etat that brought chief of staff Lt Col Seyni Kountche to power.

On 27 January 1996 the army again overthrew a democratically elected president, Mahamane Ousmane, on the pretext that the nation was threatened by squabbles between politicians.

Two years later, a bloody coup d’etat led to the ouster and death of President Bare Mainassara. The military ruled for nine months during which it organised elections that brought President Mamadou Tandja to power in December 1999.

The government "is aware that there is still a malaise within the army and that it does not take much for it to take to the streets, but so far they haven’t been able to give the soldiers good working conditions so that they can really carry out their traditional mission," an opposition politician said.

In 1992, senior officers of the armed forces had held a meeting in the southern town of Maradi to "increase the operational capacity and raise the morale of the army, which had been battered during the national sovereign conference" from July to November 1991 that paved the way for multiparty democracy.

At that meeting, the officers formally announced the military’s withdrawal from politics but warned that they would "not tolerate any disorder that might jeopardise national unity and the country’s territorial integrity".

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