MAC/20: Mines and Communities

China ends uranium prospecting in Niger after rebel threats

Published by MAC on 2007-07-11


China ends uranium prospecting in Niger after rebel threats

11th July 2007

Following on from our April report of an attack by the indigenous Niger Movement for Justice (NMJ) on a camp owned by the French nuclear energy group, Areva, the situation seems to be escalating. While the Niger government denounces the Tuareg-led rebels, and there is a national press ban on reporting the issue, the NMJ has launched an appeal to all foreigners who are working in mineral exploration to leave the "conflict zone". The NMJ subsequently took a Chinese uranium executive hostage. Interestingly, given Chinese activities in Africa, the NMJ say the specific hostage-taking was because Chinese firms operating in Niger are helping the government acquire weapons that it is then turning on the Tuaregs. According to Mineweb, they also accused "mostly Chinese companies of not employing local people and investing in basic facilities". Although the employee has been released, the action was enough for China Nuclear Engineering and Construction Corporation (CNEC) to withdraw from the country. There appears to be little news from other companies interested in the region, such as the Canadian Northwest Mineral Ventures. accuse mostly Chinese companies of not employing local people and investing in basic facilities.

The call of the NMJ is for local people to have greater control over mineral resources. Given the press ban it is difficult to hear their side of the story, and unfortunately for a mostly English language site like ours the majority of information is in French. Those who are interested in further can keep up-to-date at http://m-n-j.blogspot.com and www.criirad.org (see "Dossiers d'actualite").


Niger rebels free Chinese hostage in uranium firm

11th July 2007

By Abdoulaye Massalatchi, Reuters - http://africa.reuters.com/top/news/usnBAN124407.html

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Tuareg-led rebels in northern Niger on Tuesday released a Chinese uranium executive they kidnapped four days ago, while his company suspended its activities in the desert region.

The Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) said Zhang Guohua, an executive at China Nuclear International Uranium Corp. (Sino-U), was free and waiting to be collected by the Red Cross.
He was taken close to the desert oasis of Ingall on Friday, more than 1,000 km (600 miles) from the capital Niamey.

"There's no problem, he's free," MNJ leader Aghaly ag Alambo told Reuters by satellite phone from northern Niger. "He's been talking to his family. We're just waiting for the Red Cross."

Government spokesman Mohamed Ben Omar confirmed Zhang had been liberated and said he could be back in Niamey by Wednesday.

The MNJ kidnapped Zhang because it believed his firm was helping to fund government arms purchases to suppress its uprising. It said at the time of the kidnapping its action was meant as a warning and that the hostage would not be harmed.

A military source said Sino-U had suspended uranium exploration work in the region following the kidnap and rebel calls for foreign mining companies to withdraw expatriate staff.

"At the company's request, all of its workers have been evacuated under military escort to Ingall from where they will be taken to the regional capital Agadez," the source said.

Niger's government has granted around 70 mining exploration permits for its desert north, home to the world's fourth biggest uranium mining industry, and 100 more are under consideration. Sino-U is one of dozens of foreign firms operating in the area.

Moral Support

The MNJ, made up largely of Tuareg and other nomadic tribes, has launched a series of attacks since February against military and mining interests in and around Agadez, scene of a full-scale rebellion in the early 1990s.

It says the central government is neglecting the region and wants local people to have greater control over its mineral resources, which also include iron ore, silver and platinum.

In its first public statement since the beginning of the MNJ campaign, Niger's army called on the population to remain calm and said it was committed to protecting the nation.

"We call on the people of Niger to lend moral support to the armed forces engaged on the ground in a conflict which threatens a hard-won peace and security," army spokesman Abdoulkarim Goukoye said in an address on national radio.

The MNJ accuses the government of using the proceeds from mining permits to buy two Russian-made Mi-24 attack helicopters to strike its positions and says the army has Chinese weapons which it is using in a brutal crackdown on civilians.

"The weapons that we seized in the recent attacks (on military outposts) showed that most of the arms the government forces are using are Chinese-made," ag Alambo said.
Defence Ministry officials have declined to comment.

Pressure has been building on the president to hold talks with the leaders of the uprising. But the government refuses to recognise the MNJ and has dismissed its attacks, in which at least 33 soldiers have been killed, as acts of common banditry.


Nigerien rebels: Chinese hostage to be freed imminently

International Herald Tribune - http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/07/11/africa/AF-GEN-Niger-Desert-Unrest.php

11th July 2007

NIAMEY, Niger (The Associated Press) - Rebels in Niger's northern desert said Wednesday that they have agreed to release a Chinese uranium worker taken hostage last week, and are only waiting for Red Cross workers to take him in.

Reached by satellite phone, rebel leader Aghali Alambo told The Associated Press that he had been in regular phone contact with Chinese officials since Zhang Guohua was captured on Friday.

Alambo said they agreed yesterday to release Zhang, an executive at a Chinese uranium company, but have been waiting for an independent international organization to arrive to take him. He said the rebels are making arrangements with the Red Cross.

"He's doing well. He has his car. He has his telephone. He's constantly talking to his family," Alambo said, speaking from the group's base at Iferouane, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) northeast of the capital of Niamey.

The six-month-old rebel group, the Niger Movement for Justice, has become increasingly active in Niger's northern desert in recent months. It is made up of members of the ethnic Tuareg minority who say the government has abandoned its northern citizens and has not honored promises made in a 1995 deal that ended years of clashes.

Last month, the group attacked an army base; an assault in which 13 government soldiers were killed. Nearly 80 soldiers were taken hostage, though about 30 who had been injured in the fighting were later released. Alambo said they continue to hold 42 soldiers, and were treating them well.

The Nigerien government has repeatedly referred to the group as a collection of bandits and drug traffickers who want to destabilize the country.

Late Tuesday, the Nigerien army condemned the rebels in a broadcast on state television, and said it will take whatever measures necessary to quell the violence in the region.

"We will accomplish our mission calmly and with cohesion, within the law," army spokesman Lt. Col. Abdoul Karim Goukoye said in the broadcast.

He also demanded that the rebels guarantee that those prisoners still being held are treated in accordance with international law.

Goukoye called on the Nigerien population to support the country's forces, which he said were "engaged in a conflict that could put in peril our peace and national unity."

Alambo said rebels of the MNJ, the French abbreviation for the group, kidnapped Zhang because they believe that Chinese firms operating in Niger are helping the government acquire weapons that it is then turning on the Tuaregs.

"We are seeing weapons that Niger's army has not seen in 10 years — anti-aircraft guns, mines. We know the quality of arms that Niger has had," he said. Alambo said the MNJ could tell the arms were coming from China by their make, but said he did not know the exact brands or models himself.

He said they did not ask for ransom for the hostage release, and that none has been paid. In neighboring Nigeria, criminal gangs regularly kidnap oil workers in pursuit of large cash ransoms.

China's official Xinhua News Agency had reported over the weekend that Zhang had been taken because Tuaregs in the region were upset at the company's policy of employing people from the capital rather than locals.

Neither Nigerien nor Chinese officials could be reached for comment.

China's drive for raw materials, especially oil, has been taking it to increasingly unstable locations — many in Africa.

The kidnapping in Niger is one of a string of attacks against Chinese this year on the continent. In April, nine Chinese workers and 65 Ethiopians were killed in an attack in Ethiopia. In Nigeria, 16 Chinese nationals have been kidnapped in separate incidents.

Associated Press Writer Heidi Vogt contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.


China ends uranium prospecting in Niger after rebel threats

10th July 2007

Thomson Financial

NIAMEY- A Chinese company has shut down its uranium prospecting operation in northern Niger, after an ultimatum from the Tuareg rebel movement there, Toureg sources said.

The China Nuclear Engineering and Construction Corporation (CNEC) pulled out after receiving threats from the rebel Movement of Niger People for Justice (MNJ), said the source in Agaez, in the north of the country. 'All the Chinese have left the site and arrived at Ingall (100 km south of Agadez) with their prospecting equipment and a major military escort,' said the source.

The CNEC pull-out comes after Tuaregs of the MNJ abducted a Chinese national last Friday in the Ingall region. An MNJ spokesman said at the time that the action had been intended as a warning to Chinese companies operating with the Niger army.

'No foreigner will be safe so long as the army continues its repression,' said an MNJ statement. It has called for an immediate end to mining in the north of the country. In April, MNJ rebels attacked the biggest uranium project of French nuclear group Areva in Imoumaren, demanding better application of the economic aspects of the 1995 peace agreements that ended a Tuareg rebellion. The MNJ says peace will not return to the north of Niger without better integration of Tuaregs into the army, paramilitary corps and the local mining sector. Since February it has carried out attacks on military targets in the area.


China Suspends Uranium Operation in Northern Niger After Rebel Threats

10th July 2007

By VOA News, http://www.voanews.com/english/2007-07-10-voa51.cfm

A Chinese company has shut down its uranium prospecting operation in northern Niger following threats from rebels.

Military officials and sources close to the company say the China Nuclear Engineering and Construction Corporation halted operations after receiving threats from a Tuareg-led rebel group Niger Movement for Justice.

The sources say all of the company's workers have been evacuated with their prospecting equipment to Ingall, about 100 kilometers northeast of the capital, Niamey. The rebel group kidnapped an executive of the Chinese company on Friday.

Niger is one of the world's leading producers of uranium. The Tuareg rebels have carried out a series of attacks against government and foreign interests in the region in recent months. The rebel group contends Niger's government has failed to live up to a 1995 peace deal promising local residents greater control over the region's rich natural resources.


Niger bans newspaper for its reporting on rebels

By Abdoulaye Massalatchi, Reuters (www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L01159223.htm)

1st July 2007

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Authorities in Niger have banned a newspaper for three months and given formal warnings to three others for "demoralising the troops" with their reporting on attacks by rebels in the country's remote north.

Officials said the state communication council (CSC), charged with regulating the media in the West African nation, had suspended the fortnightly Air Info newspaper, based in the northern town of Agadez, the heart of the rebel region.

It had also issued formal warnings to three weekly newspapers in the capital Niamey -- Liberation, Evenement and Opinions -- on the same charges of inciting violence and demoralising government forces.
Air Info dedicated its latest edition to coverage of an attack by the rebel Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), which killed 15 soldiers and took dozens hostage just over a week ago in Tazerzait, a remote settlement around a well in the Sahara desert near the Algerian and Malian borders.

Liberation published in full statements from the MNJ's Website (m-n-j.blogspot.com) claiming the attack and announcing the start of a new rebellion.
The government refuses to recognise the MNJ.

"The CSC decision is a grave threat to freedom of information because it aims simply to intimidate us, to stop us from covering the events in the north," Ahmed Raliou, director of Agadez-based private radio station Sahara, told Reuters.

Niger has a poor record on press freedom. Watchdogs have in the past accused it of using strict media laws to settle scores with journalists who expose corruption or criticise the government by jailing them or banning their organisations.

The north has long been a hotbed of dissent, largely beyond government control, full of disillusioned, unemployed youths and awash with arms left over from an uprising by Tuareg, Arab and Toubou nomads in the 1990s.

Most of those rebel groups accepted peace deals in 1995 but the MNJ says the government has not lived up to its promises, failing to integrate former fighters and leaving the north economically marginalised and rife with insecurity.

At least 33 soldiers have been killed in the north since the MNJ launched its campaign in February. But President Mamadou Tandja's government refuses to use the word rebellion, saying the attackers are drug traffickers and common criminals.

Around a dozen political parties called on Saturday for hostilities to cease and for the government to open dialogue with the MNJ, adding to calls last week from the second party in the governing coalition for a team of mediators to be set up.

A week ago, the president of the CSC told journalists not to become apologists for the group, saying that by taking up arms they had become enemies of the nation and were no longer to be considered as fellow citizens.


Rebeldes nigerianos secuestran ejecutivo de uranio chino

Sábado 7 de Julio, 2007

Por Abdoulaye Massalatchi

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Rebeldes tuaregs de Nigeria del norte secuestraron a un ejecutivo de uranio chino y exigen que su compañía detenga sus actividades en la desértica región, dijo el sábado un portavoz rebelde y el gobierno. Zhang Guohua, ejecutivo de la compañía de uranio china Sino-U, fue secuestrado el viernes cerca de la ciudad oasis de Ingall, a más de 1.000 kilómetros al norte de la capital Niamey, informó una fuente cercana al Ministerio de Minas.

"Esta región ha sido declarada una zona de guerra por el gobierno y en esta situación no podemos permitir que los chinos continúen extrayendo recursos naturales mientras los civiles están siendo matados," dijo Seydou Kaocen Maiga, un portavoz con sede en París para el grupo rebelde Movimiento por la Justicia de Níger (MNJ por sus siglas en francés), a Reuters.

"Enviamos gente para decirles que no queremos que los chinos continúen trabajando mientras hay un conflicto (...) pero ellos se negaron a detenerse, así que este empleado fue capturado," declaró el portavoz.

Maiga dijo que el secuestro era una advertencia y que los rebeldes no tenían planeado dañar a Zhang. El portavoz manifestó que no se haría una exigencia de pago de rescate, pero agregó que no había tenido ningún contacto directo con la compañía de Zhang desde el incidente.

"Nos enteramos por medio de diplomáticos chinos que el señor Zhang Guohua fue capturado cerca de las 14.30 hora local en el área cerca de Ingall pero no tenemos otra información precisa," dijo la fuente del ministerio.

El MNJ, formado mayoritariamente por tuaregs y otras tribus nómadas, ha encabezado una campaña de ataques contra el Gobierno e intereses mineros en el norte rico en minerales de Níger, que alberga la cuarta mayor industria mundial de extracción de uranio. Los rebeldes dicen que el gobierno central ha abandonado la región y quiere que la población local tenga mayor control sobre sus recursos mineros, los que también incluyen minerales de hierro, plata, platino y titanio. Firmas petroleras extranjeras también se encuentran buscando crudo en la zona.

(Reporte adicional de Nick Tattersall en Dakar)

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