Niger to lift security alert in north on rebel deal

Niger’s government will lift a security alert that has been in place in the country’s north for more than two years after a peace deal with the area’s Tuareg rebels, it said yesterday.

The alert, which had given the African nation’s military special powers to control travel and shipments in the area of Agadez and restricted journalist access, will be formally lifted today, the government said in a statement over national television.
The move comes after nomadic Tuareg rebel groups, which had increased attacks in a renewed insurgency since 2007, signed a peace deal with the governments of Niger and Mali last month.
International resource firms such as France’s Areva and Canada’s Cameco have uranium mining operations in the remote northern areas of Niger.
Despite the lifting of the alert, Niger’s military is braced for continued security threats in the area where al Qaeda cells also operate, as similar peace deals with the Tuareg rebels have failed due to splintering factions.
"We loosen the vice with regard to what people call the annoyances, to allow a return to the normal life, but that does mean that we lower our guard," a high-ranking military official told Reuters.
Some 300 rebel fighters have been killed in the latest fighting, along with approximately 80 government soldiers, according to military sources. Hundreds more have been killed or maimed by mines.
Easing tensions since the rebel peace deal have also raised hopes of a resumption of tourism to the once-popular destination city of Agadez known for its picturesque 16th century mosque and proximity to the vast desert dunes.
French tour operator Point Afrique has said it would restart flights from Marseilles to Agadez later this year.
Niger President Mamadou Tandja drew widespread international criticism earlier this year for orchestrating a constitutional reform that extended his term in office and broadened his powers.