Fifty former Tuareg rebels turned armed bandits have surrendered their weapons to authorities in Niger, after two years on the run in the country’s remote desert north, state TV reported.
Nomadic Tuaregs launched uprisings in the Sahara in the 1960s and 1990s. Renewed rebellions in early 2007 against the governments of Niger and neighbouring Mali have increased instability in a region where al Qaeda cells also operate.
The rebellions largely fizzled out after peace deals signed in 2009 under Libyan mediation, although splintered Tuareg factions have also reneged on them. The region they operate in remains lawless and plagued by banditry, Reuters reports.
The former rebels, who surrendered to local authorities over the weekend, handed in 33 weapons, explosives, ammunition, four Toyota 4x4s and nine motorbikes in the Uranium-rich Agadez region, state TV reported late on Sunday.
“Local authorities are increasing calls for a restoration of security and peace, but more important has been the deployment of defense forces throughout the region,” an army officer who could not be named told Reuters.
As well as banditry, al Qaeda in North African (AQIM) has heightened insecurity in the area where international resource firms such as France’s Areva and Canada’s Cameco have operations.
“This region has been battered by repeated rebellions, banditry, arms trafficking and now AQIM,” the military officer said. “But with more military personnel in place, the armed tbandits will find it increasingly difficult to operate.”