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Tension in Central Sahara

Criquet au stade d'ailé rose, le plus vorace et nuisible.
The most voracious and harmful stage of the locusts’ development is when they are pink and winged. IRIN
Young locusts are most voracious and can be identified by their pink hue
Insurgents in Niger have denied a charge that they have been aiding a new rebel group in northern Chad. Molimi Barkai, representative in Niamey of the Front arme revolutionnaire du Sahara (FARS) said in a radio interview that his group had been surprised by the claim, made last week by Chad’s government. The Chadian government had reported on 11 March that it had wiped out a unit of Niger rebels that had crossed over into northern Chad to help the Mouvement pour la Democratie et la Justice au Tchad (MDJT) led by former Chadian government minister Youssouf Togoimi. Togoimi had been defence minister and then minister of home affairs in the government of President Idriss Deby between 1995 and 1997. According to AFP, he retired to his home area in the Tibetsi region, on the border with Libya, in September last after being placed under house arrest in Ndjamena. He then formed the MDJT, whose spokesperson in Paris claimed last week that there had been 15 clashes since then between the rebels and government forces, and that the latter had lost more than 300 men. On 10 March, the Chadian government denied that there had been army casualties. It also minimised the importance of the rebels, saying that they were just about 40 holed up in the Tibetsi. The arid, mountainous zone is home to the Toubou, the ethnic group to which both Togoimi and the FARS’ Libya-based leader, Barka Wardougou, belong. Defence Minister Oumar Kadjalami was quoted by AFP as saying on 11 March that “a column of 11 vehicles carrying 115 Niger rebels from the Barka Wardougou group,” had been intercepted in Chad near the Niger border and that 28 had been killed while seven were captured. The Chadian forces, he said, suffered four wounded. The Borkou-Ennedi-Tibetsi (BET) region in northern Chad, like the adjoining area in Niger, is difficult to reach and control, a media source in Ndjamena told IRIN by telephone. “In Ndjamena, it’s very difficult to get information,” he said, adding that very often the only news on trouble in the BET came from western sources. “The government is usually not forthcoming with information on conflicts,” he said. IRIN was unable to obtain additional information from the Chadian government. One senior ministry official explained that he was not authorised to give out information on events in the north but said nevertheless that “the situation is not as alarming as it is being painted” “We are calm here,” he said. “We’re confident”. Other than the MDJT, there are at least two rebel groups in Chad, le Mouvement pour la Democratie et le Developpement (MDD) around Lake Chad and the Front national du Tchad renove (FNTR) in the eastern region of Ouaddai. Across the border in Niger, there are at least 15 rebel groups. They have signed successive peace agreements with the government, including one concluded on 24 April 1995 and another, the latest, on 21 August 1998. In a declaration dated 10 March 1999, the rebels, grouped together in the Resistance Armee de l’Air, de l’Azawak, du Manga et du Kawar, accused unnamed state institutions in Niger of sabotaging peace efforts. They said they would decide what to do about the peace process at a meeting to be held in the north or east of the country before 24 April, the anniversary of the 1995 agreement. Under the agreements, former rebels - most of whom are Toubou, Tuareg and Arabs from northern and eastern Niger - were to be incorporated into a new force, the Unites sahariennes de Securite (Saharan Security Units) and other security forces. Some combattants have already become members of the security forces but the ex-rebels say the process needs to be speeded up. Other former insurgents have been camped in assembly points pending their incorporation. FARS members, for example, are reportedly camped in an assembly point in Orida in the north. “We cannot be in Chad and Niger at the same time,” FARS spokesman Barkai said in the radio interview. In their declaration, the former rebels called for the “real integration of the Unites Sahariennes de Securite, namely the regularisation of their administrative situation (and) their deployment in the regions concerned to ensure the safety of people and property...” Among other things, they also called for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to investigate a massacre perpetrated in January. According to a journalist attached to an independent media house in Niamey, a mass grave containing around 153 civilians was discovered in the Diffa area in eastern Niger in January. The victims had been removed from a border village and were under the care of a military commander, the journalist said.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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