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Ex Tuareg rebel leader turned minister released from jail

Rhissa Ag Boula, a former Tuareg rebel leader who served as a minister in the Niger government for eight years, has been released from jail, a senior Niger official said this week. The official, who asked not to be identified, confirmed press reports when reached by phone that the former tourism minister, who was jailed a year ago in connection with a murder probe, had been freed early this month. He denied the release was linked to the freeing a month earlier of four soldiers kidnapped by Ag Boula’s brother, Mohamed Ag Boula. The soldiers were flown home to Niamey in early February after Libya obtained their release. Mohamed Ag Boula, claiming to speak on behalf of a Tuareg rebel group, had said he would not release the men unless his brother was freed. The soldiers were captured in an ambush on 1 October in the Air mountain range 1,000 km northeast of the capital. Mohamed Ag Boula claimed the kidnapping on behalf of the now-dissolved Air and Azaouak Liberation Front (FLAA). Rhissa Ag Boula headed the FLAA until a 1995 peace deal that brought a four-year Tuareg rebellion in northern Niger to an end. He won a senior position in government as part of the deal but resigned as tourism minister in February last year and was arrested shortly afterwards in connection with the murder of an official of Niger's ruling party in the Tuareg stronghold of Agadez, 800 km northeast of Niamey. In an interview in October with Radio France Internationale, his brother Mohamed said he was personally responsible for the kidnapping of the four soldiers. He also said he was leading a 200-strong group fighting to defend the rights of the Tuareg, Toubou and Semori nomadic populations of northern Niger. “We are defending our rights in Niger. The current government has not implemented the 1995 accords. Besides, we are demanding the liberation of all members of the ex-rebellion currently in detention,” Mohamed Ag Boula said. Niger's interior minister said the assailants were the same people who had launched several attacks on vehicles travelling along the main trans-Sahara highway in northern Niger during the preceding months. The attacks followed reports that former Tuareg rebel fighters, integrated into the national army under the 1995 peace deal, had deserted following Rhissa Ag Boula's arrest. They were alleged to be regrouping in the Air Mountains to resume hostilities. The authorities in Niger strongly denied both the allegations of mass desertion and the renaissance of a rebellion. They insisted on calling the gunmen bandits, not rebels. Even after the Tuareg rebellion formally ended in 1995, banditry remained a serious problem in northern Niger until 2000, forcing traffic on the trans-Sahara highway to travel in convoys protected by heavily-armed soldiers.

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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