April 09, 2008

Tuareg University Students Take Up Arms

Tuareg university students? Yes, indeed, the Tuaregs are represented in numerous universities around the world! In America, a number of Tuareg men and women have pursued undergraduate and graduate degrees at major universities. Tuaregs are smart and ambitious, and numerous Tuaregs have taken high paying jobs in business, banking, engineering, and university teaching careers in America and Europe. They cannot forget their families and people in the Sahara, and the injustices they suffer in Mali and Niger.

Mano Dayak, the famous leader of the Tuareg rebellions in Niger in the 1990s who was killed in an airplane crash in 1995, was educated at the University of Indiana and at the Sorbonne. He spoke fluent American English and French, in addition to Temajeq and Hausa. He was an ambitious and successful businessman, a renowned Tuareg leader, and a valiant negotiator for peace.

Phuong Tran, reporter for Voice of America, traveled to Mali and Niger in November and December 2007, to find out about the current Tuareg rebellion, and got this story of two Tuareg university students who traveled for weeks in order to join the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ).

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The following article written by Phuong Tran, VOA (Voice of America)
Visit the VOA website to see video clips of the town of Timbuktu in Mali and MNJ fighters in Niger, photo of students, and hear the broadcast -- this is one of Phuong Tran's most interesting articles, from the cultural perspective, following her visit to the Tuaregs, and this video that accompanies her report is particularly worth seeing (click on video link on the website below).


Nigerian Students Clandestinely Join Mountain Rebellion

09 April 2008

In West Africa, ethnic nomad Tuareg rebels last year launched attacks in Niger's Saharan north, demanding more money and power for their desert communities. More than half the country is under a state of alert, making it easier for security forces to arrest anyone suspected of rebel ties. VOA reporter Phuong Tran recently accompanied two Nigerian university students on their clandestine trip to join the mountain rebellion.

Tuareg students Amoumene Ag Haidara and Mohamed Serge Maurice wait at a bus stop with other tourists visiting the desert town Timbuktu, Mali.

But touring one of the world's most ancient cities is not what brought them here.

They are meeting the second in command of the rebel Movement of Nigerians for Justice to get his help to cross over into Niger to join a mountain rebellion.

Mountain rebels have renewed decades-old violence, demanding more power and services for the mostly Tuareg population in the north.

Despite the risks of this clandestine crossing, Maurice does not see another option. He says, "There are injustices and hatred that Tuareg endure, but there is no way we can talk about it openly. No one will listen to us, so there is nothing else we can do but to take up arms."

Tuareg rebels say Niger government officials have neglected nomad communities in the north, even though the region's uranium is one of the country's biggest moneymakers. The government refuses to negotiate with the rebels, calling them drug traffickers.

The rebels say a decade-old peace deal has failed to bring change to one of the most difficult places in the world to live.

The students join rebel leader Acharif Ag Mohamed El Moctar. They continue together to the Mali-Niger border. "But no safety. No security. [switching to French] Mie on s'approche de la frontière, il n'y a pas de la securit é. Ça c'est Claire," El Moctar said.

As we approach the border, the more dangerous it will become, he warns. They finish trip preparations in an abandoned house in Mali.

After a moonlit tire change, the group drives through the night, arriving at a plateau hidden by rocky boulders, within one hundred kilometers of the Niger border. This hideout becomes their base to buy and assemble weapons. Local Tuareg help them buy smuggled oil from Algeria. New military uniforms.

Three weeks and hundreds of kilograms of rice, barrels of oil and cartons of cigarettes later, the students continue to Niger. "When we take off, we will make it safely. God willing, we will arrive," Amoumene Ah Haidara, a rebel recruit said.

The group speeds into Niger, passing within kilometers of military garrisons, without encountering one control post. They stop only once to refuel.

One month after their trip began, the students arrive at the rebels' base in the Air Mountains of Niger. "At university, we debated different theories of social justice and reform. We have always wanted the chance to put into practice those ideas. Now is the time," Maurice said.

April 03, 2008

Amnesty International Documents New Wave of Niger Army Atrocities on Tuareg Civilians

DOCUMENTED: Niger Army Atrocities on Tuareg Civilians

Amnesty International appeals to Government of Niger to IMMEDIATELY END THE NIGER ARMY'S ATROCITIES ON CIVILIANS

SUMMARY: Amnesty International Report documents the following, April 3, 2008:

1. Niger Army new wave of extrajudicial executions of Tuareg civilians in the Agadez region.

2. Niger Army executed at least 8 Tuareg civilians between March 22-25

3. Niger Army launched retaliation attacks on Tuareg civilians

4. Niger Army stole/looted personal property from Tuareg civilians, at Dabaga and Tamazalak

5. Niger Army burned Tuareg civilians' homes and camps, at Dabaga and Tamazalak

6. Niger Army used Tuareg civilians as a human shield against land mines; several civilians wounded as a result, on the Dabaga-El Meki road

7. Niger Army killed 77-year old farmer, Baregha Hada, at Dabaga, near Agadez

8. Niger Army arbitrarily arrested, tortured (mutilated and burned), and killed merchant, Aboubakar Attoulèle

9. Niger Army arbitrarily arrested, severely beat (with rifle butts), and shot 66-year old gardener, Mohamed El Moctar, at Tabouhait

10. Niger Army shot 3 other people, at least, including two on March 22, 2008 at Tamazalak

11. Niger Army abducted 4 people, including Al Wali, village head of Tourayat, March 30

12. REFUGEES: Residents of Dabaga and Tamazalak have fled to take refuge in Agadez. Other villagers have fled into the mountains to avoid roads where the military are carrying out arbitrary civilian arrests.

13. FREEDOM OF SPEECH THREATS TO GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS: Elected officials at Dabaga threatened by soldiers, who accused them of having provided information relating to the atrocities that were committed by the Army.

14. Land mines - Amnesty calls for an end to land mines used by both the Niger Army and the MNJ

April 3, 2008

Niger: executions and forced disappearances following reprisals carried out by the Army

Amnesty International is very concerned about the new wave of extrajudicial executions committed by the Nigerien Army in the Agadez region, which has been shaken for more than a year by a rebellion led by an armed opposition group, the Movement of Nigerians for Justice (MNJ).

"We urgently appeal to the Nigerian authorities to immediately give orders to the security forces to put an end to extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances of civilians in the north. The government must open an investigation on these facts, bring those responsible to justice, and provide reparations to relatives of those victims," said Veronique Aubert, Deputy Director of the Africa Program on April 3, 2008.

At least eight civilians were arbitrarily executed between March 22-25, 2008 following clashes between the MNJ and the Nigerian army. In the context of these confrontations, several soldiers were killed and several army vehicles were destroyed by mines. Following these human and material losses, the army launched a retaliation attack against the civilian population, executing and arresting civilians, and seizing personal property from residents of the local community.

Amnesty International has learned that on one occasion, on March 26, 2008, on the Dabaga-El Meki road, soldiers forced civilians to drive in a vehicle in front of the military convoy, in order to protect the military against possible antipersonnel mines on the road. Despite this, the military vehicle was unable to avoid a mine and the vehicle was damaged. The driver and two passengers of the civilian vehicle, which was leading the convoy, were beaten by the soldiers, who accused them of having been trained to ambush them. The convoy got started again on the road and a little later, the civilian vehicle was blown up by a mine. The soldiers then took the wounded to a medical clinic.

Baregha Hada, a seventy-seven year old farmer, was returning from pasture with his donkeys on March 25, 2008, when he was extrajudicially killed by soldiers in the town of Dabaga (Agadez region).

Another civilian was tortured before being killed. A merchant, Aboubakar Attoulèle, called Kouzaba, was arrested by soldiers on March 26, 2008. According to information received by Amnesty International, this man had his ears cut off, and his head and hair burned, before being stabbed.

Another civilian was severely beaten before being shot. Mohamed El Moctar, a sixty-six year old gardener, was arrested in his camp located at Tabouhait, on March 24. The soldiers beat him with their rifle butts before slaughtering him. Three other people, at least, were killed by bullets, including two on March 22, 2008 in the village of Tamazalak.

"If the security forces have the legitimate right to respond in a manner proportionate to armed attacks, they can not blindly attack defenceless people," says Veronique Aubert, Deputy Director of Program Africa, on April 3, 2008.

In addition, these extrajudicial executions are a violation of Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that: "The right to life is inherent in the human person. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life." There is no exception to this right under any circumstances even in a state of emergency, which is currently in force in the region of Agadez.

Amnesty International has also been informed of several cases of forced disappearances and arrests. Four people including Al Wali, village head of Tourayat, were abducted on March 30 by the military and, in spite of their searches, their families have been unable to obtain any news of their relatives who "disappeared" since then.

The Niger Army soldiers had also stolen personal property from the villagers, and then burned their homes and camps, notably at Dabaga and Tamazalak. Residents of both villages have fled to take refuge in Agadez. Other villagers have fled into the mountains to avoid roads where the military are carrying out civilian arrests.

Amnesty International has also learned that elected officials in the region of Dabaga were threatened by the soldiers, who accused them of having provided information relating to the atrocities that were committed by the army.

The organization is also concerned about the use of land mines in the context of this conflict between the Nigerien security forces and armed elements of MNJ since February 2007. Each of these two parties blames the other for the responsibility of the land mines, which have already claimed many civilian and military victims. Amnesty International calls on both sides to put an immediate end to the use of land mines which constitute a danger to all the people moving about, including civilians, who are at risk of losing their lives or limbs if they walk over the mines.

Original article is in French.

TCN translation to English.


APO - African Press Organization - APPABLOG (original article in French)
April 3, 2008

March 18, 2008

Abe Lincoln in the Sahara

"We will bring our confrontation to the heart of the country, in the heart of this monster that absorbs all the soul of a democratic country whose sons have shed their blood, to emerge as "the power of the People by the people and for the people." -- Tuareg-led Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), March 18, 2008

Abe Lincoln in the Sahara

The news blackout continues in Niger, and the only news about Tuaregs these days comes from news releases from Niamey to the international press, or else the Tuareg-led rebels' internet site. Both local and international journalists have been incarcerated and threatened with the death penalty for attempting to report impartially on the rebellion in the North. The Niger government refuses to open a dialogue on significant social, economic and political issues that the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) has made public through its website and through interviews with its representatives which have made international press. The Niger government has persistently labeled the rebel movement "armed gunmen" and "bandits," denying that there is any "rebellion" going on in Niger.

However, the facts speak for themselves: the multi-ethnic, Tuareg-led MNJ is a modern army with political objectives. Their actions over the past year reveal that they are a well-trained and highly successful military organization with a focused, clearly articulated political agenda. They have attacked numerous military installations, appropriated substantial government arsenals and vehicles, and taken dozens of military hostages, including government representatives. Their range of operations extends well beyond their Air Mountain stronghold, to Tanout in the south -- and this week, just 125 miles north of Niamey at Banibangou in the far west. They have initiated one successful attack after another, and have demonstrated that they are a substantial force to be reckoned with. Niger's army has been defeated repeatedly.

A daring pair of French reporters made a clandestine visit to the MNJ headquarters in northern Niger a few weeks ago. On French TV they aired candid views of MNJ President Aghaly ag Alambo seated amid some of their prisoners, including the Prefet of Tanout (see TCN news summary in the left-hand sidebar; view photo story here). The video footage reveals what appears to be a well-organized military operation, MNJ soldiers in uniforms, substantial sophisticated weaponry, rigorous training programs, and a calm, focused leader.

The actual number of MNJ forces is unknown, but according to their website, as of seven months ago they had over 2,000 fighters. They have received more fighters since then, including many soldiers who have defected from the Niger army and the FARS (the Tubu-led Forces armées révolutionnaires du Sahara), headed by Commandant Kindo Zada. They are a multi-ethnic force that includes Hausa army officers.

MNJ has an elite commando unit, the TIR (Troupes d'Intervention Rapides) that has staged many highly-successful commando-style surprise attacks, for example, the Agadez airport last summer and the major military installation at Tanout in January to mention a few. Many MNJ members were trained by U.S. marines as part of the Pan Sahel and Trans-Sahara anti-terrorism initiatives in 2003-2006. One source suggests that all 130 members of the U.S.-trained Niger Rapid Intervention Company defected from the army to join the MNJ. The MNJ, then, appears to be far more than "armed gunmen" or a "tribal army," but a modern military organization with seasoned soldiers trained in the best of traditions, by the American military. What makes the Tuareg-led MNJ formidable vis-à-vis the national army is their heritage of native navigation capabilities and combat experience in the Sahara, in addition to their sophisticated military training with U.S. marines and their ability to mobilize their units quickly, efficiently and effectively. In short, the MNJ is well-equipped and well-prepared to handle security issues in the Sahara. It has been suggested that Niger would do well to create a special force of these skilled trackers and fighters, and use them to protect the country's borders, instead of waging war on them (Thomas-Hensen and Fick 2007).

MNJ says that it is pro-democracy, and the reason they are fighting is because there is no democracy in Niger: the national government is a sham, a cruel and corrupt dictatorship run by a few political elites who have created a climate of repression and fear in the general population through threats, intimidation, arrests, rape, torture and extrajudicial executions (all of which have been documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Dec. 19, 2007).

According to MNJ (March 18, 2008), there is no legitimate government in Niger. The current regime came into power through the criminal assassination on April 9, 1999 of the people's democratically-elected president, Mainassara Baré, and then the same criminals put themselves in power and wrote a new constitution absolving themselves of the crime. Amnesty International (2000 report) called for an investigation, but there never was one. MNJ says that those in power in Niamey are the very criminals who assassinated the legitimate president, and therefore, MNJ does not recognize them as a legitimate government.

From the perspective of MNJ, there are no democratic channels they can go through to pursue their claims peacefully, because there is no democratic government in Niger. They claim that Niger is a government of unpunished crooks and assassins operating outside the Constitution, who create ethnic hatred, promote inequality, oppress the people and embezzle public funds instead of putting the funds toward the country's development and alleviation of the dire poverty in Niger. They claim that the current regime persistently abuses human rights and suppresses freedom of speech so that citizens are afraid to speak out, identify and discuss the issues.

Following their successful attack Monday, March 17, 2008 on the administrative post at Banibangou just 125 miles north of Niger's capital at Niamey, MNJ says it is dedicated to the establishment of true democracy in Niger, and they will continue their fight: "We will bring our confrontation to the heart of the country, in the heart of this monster that absorbs all the soul of a democratic country whose sons have shed their blood, to emerge as "the power of the People by the people and for the people," referencing a famous statement by American President Abraham Lincoln, in the Gettysburg Address, which is reproduced below:

"Four score and seven years ago [1776, the American Revolution, Declaration of Independence] our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war [1861-1865, the American Civil War], testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war [Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where a decisive battle was fought July 1-3, 1863; it was the battle with the most casualties, often considered the turning point of the American Civil War]. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people [democracy], shall not perish from the earth." (Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863, Gettysburg Address dedicating a national cemetery to those slain in the battle there.)


Amnesty International
Niger: The Right To Justice. [Call for investigation of Pres. Mainassara Baré's April 9, 1999 assassination.]
2000 report

Amnesty International
Niger: Extrajudicial executions and population displacement in the north of the country.
December 19, 2007

Human Rights Watch
Niger: Warring Sides Must End Abuses of Civilians.
December 19, 2007

Mouvement Nigerien pour la Justice (MNJ)
The Constitutional Lies of an Illegitimate Regime.
March 18, 2008

Thomas-Hensen, Colin and Maggie Fick
Foreign Assistance Follies in Niger. CSIS Africa Policy Forum. (Center for Strategic and International Studies).
Sept. 4, 2007

Pourquoi les rebelles touareg se battent. Photo story.

Second Tuareg Rebellion. [Note: None of the sources referenced in this article by the statement that all 130 members of the Niger Rapid Intervention Company defected from the army to join the MNJ actually contain that information; therefore, while it could very well be true, the information remains merely an opinion or suggestion until the source is properly verified.]