Niger’s government and main Tuareg rebel groups have agreed at Libyan-sponsored talks to make peace in the country’s uranium-mining north, Libyan state media and a rebel Web site said on Tuesday.
The joint peace declaration late on Monday was the most inclusive yet between Tuareg rebels, who launched an uprising two years ago, and the government, which had dismissed them as smugglers and bandits for most of that time.
Nomadic Tuaregs launched uprisings in the Sahara in the 1960s and 1990s and renewed rebellions since early 2007 against the governments of Niger and neighboring Mali have increased instability in a region where al-Qaeda cells also operate.
Government and rebel leaders declared peace in the presence of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, current chairman of the African Union, the Libyan state news agency Jana reported.
“Two days of talks ... were crowned by an announcement in front of the brother leader of the Revolution and African Union chairman that they commit themselves to keep up total and comprehensive peace in Niger,” Jana said.
Nigerien Interior Minister Albade Abouba, who led the government delegation, met representatives from three Tuareg rebel groups, one of the groups — the Niger Patriotic Front (FPN) — said in a statement posted on its Web site.
“All the delegations spoke in favor of peace and national reconciliation. The two sides took the guide of the revolution, and through him the whole of Africa, as witness to their real and sincere desire to work for peace,” the FPN said.
“All those taking part in this mission now have the historic responsibility to overcome their differences and realize these commitments, which must now be transformed into a formal peace agreement,” the FPN said.
The FPN split last month from the Niger Justice Movement (MNJ), which launched the armed revolt in Niger’s northern Saharan region in February 2007, with more than 300 rebels and about 80 government soldiers killed in the past two years.
“We are very happy for having reached this outcome today and at this place after meeting several times,” Jana quoted MNJ leader Aghaly ag Alambo as saying on Monday.
Last August, Alambo dismissed reports by Niger’s state media that his fighters would lay down their arms and join a Libyan-mediated peace process. But some Tuareg fighters did surrender then, and the MNJ has been riven with in-fighting.
The FPN said when it split from the MNJ that it wanted a negotiated peace.