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NIGER: Rebels raid town in south east

DAKAR, 22 January 2008 (IRIN) - An anti-government rebel group in Niger has claimed responsibility for an attack on the southeastern town Tanout near the eastern humanitarian aid hub Zinder on 21 January.

Three people were killed and seven abducted – including the prefet, the most senior government official in Tanout – in the evening raid, according to the governor of the Zinder region, interviewed by the Reuters news agency on 22 January. Tanout is 150 km north of Zinder and 950 km east of the capital Niamey.

The Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) on its website claimed to have taken 11 prisoners and killed seven police and soldiers.

The attack in Tanout is part of a gradual widening of a conflict between the MNJ and the government which started in February 2007. Since December, mines have exploded for the first time in the key aid hubs and trading towns Maradi and Tahoua and in Niamey.

The MNJ claims it is fighting for greater economic and political autonomy for the Touareg ethnic group dominating the north of the country. It has denied responsibility for laying the mines.

An aid official who requested anonymity said while the rebel attacks in southern Niger briefly disrupted aid operations in early January, work is expected to continue as usual.

“I don’t believe attacks will continue,” the official said. “These look like sporadic attacks just to show off and send a strong message that they can reach any part of the country they want, but I don’t know if they have the capability to really attack everywhere.”

Niger, a vast West African country roughly the size of Western Europe, is among the poorest countries in the world.

Every year between June and November, international aid agencies roll out a US$45-million relief effort to prevent malnutrition-related deaths as the country’s impoverished people struggle through the ‘lean season’, when their stores of food and money from the previous year’s harvest have run out.

Food monitors have warned that unusually high market prices for food in West Africa in 2008 could mean an especially difficult year for people especially in the semi-arid Sahel region which includes Niger as well as Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania.

The northern part of the country has already been largely cut off to aid agencies because of the fighting and mines which have been laid throughout the desert and mountain region.

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Theme (s): Conflict, Early Warning, Food Security, Governance, Human Rights, Urban Risk,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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