The UN said on Friday that Robert Fowler, its special envoy to Niger whose disappearance west of the capital Niamey was announced on Monday, was on an official visit.
“Mr Fowler came here as part of an official UN visit but we were not aware of his trip out of town to the Samira gold mine,” said Modibo Traore, head of the local office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“Mr Fowler is the UN secretary-general’s special representative for Niger and in that capacity he is responsible for humanitarian problems and for finding a solution to the [Tuareg] rebellion,” he said.
On Dec. 12, the day after his arrival in Niamey, Fowler met with Nigerien Interior Minister Albade Abouba and Nigerien Justice Minister Dagra Mamadou, Traore said.
Traore’s statement echoed that of the spokeswoman of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who appointed Fowler — a former Canadian ambassador to the UN — last July.
“I can confirm to you that Mr Fowler, as special envoy for Niger, was on an official mission,” UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe said on Thursday at a daily press briefing at UN headquarters in New York.
She refused to say more about his disappearance or his appointment, which Ban had made without an announcement.
In revealing the disappearance and feared kidnapping of Fowler, 64, and another Canadian diplomat, Louis Guay, Nigerien Communications Minister Mohamed ben Omar stated on Tuesday that the UN envoy was not in Niger on official business.
Officially, Niamey has never called on the UN to mediate with Tuareg rebels, whom it normally dismisses as “bandits” and “drug traffickers.”
The Tuareg, who live in the remote northern deserts of Niger, say they are fighting for autonomy and a slice of the uranium wealth that lies beneath the sands of their region.
Ben Omar said Fowler had requested an invitation to attend Niger’s 50th anniversary celebrations on Thursday in Tillaberi, west of Niamey.
Just before his disappearance Fowler visited Samira, a gold mine west of Niamey, majority-owned by two Canadian companies: Etruscan Resources and Semafo Inc.