At least 80 former rebels disarm in Niger

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At least 80 former Tuareg rebels surrendered their weapons to authorities in Niger on Friday, the second wave of disarmament aimed at restoring order in the country’s uranium-producing north, state radio said.

Niger’s last Tuareg-led rebellion ended two years ago but many gunmen failed to disarm, leaving the north awash with former rebels, bandits and, increasingly, gunmen linked to al Qaeda.

Many in the region fear the conflict in neighbouring Libya is adding to the instability.
“From now on, we will no longer tolerate attacks by armed men in this region,” Garba Maikido, governor of Agadez region, said on state radio on Friday.

The radio said the former rebels had handed in 21 weapons, some land mines, over 1,400 rounds of ammunition and five Toyota four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Despite the end of the rebellion, Niger’s north has seen a spike in insecurity, including the kidnapping of tourists and expatriates working for French nuclear firm Areva .

Niger, like Mali and Mauritania to the west, has struggled to control its vast desert zones, which are criss-crossed by bandits, Islamists and smugglers of drugs, weapons and people.

Libya helped Niger negotiate an end to its rebellion but analysts say the conflict there has increased the flow of weapons through the zone.

About 50 other rebels disarmed last week, having roamed the desert region of Tchirozerine, and an officer said the army was making progress in stamping its authority on the region.
“We cannot say it is 100 percent secure but one thing is for sure – the army is controlling (more) territory,” the officer said, asking not to be named.
“Bandits who have caused this insecurity have no choice to hand themselves in or face being crushed. We are ready to do that,” he added.