Tuareg official protests Niger kidnapping accusation

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A leader of the Tuareg community in Niger protested on Friday after Niamey and Paris said Tuaregs were suspected in the kidnap of five French nationals and two Africans.

Boutali Tchewiren, president of the Alhak-Nakal (Right to Land) Association, told AFP he thought the abductions were more likely to have been carried out by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

"It's not because some of the kidnappers spoke Tamachek that the whole Tuareg community should be accused," he told AFP.

The Niamey government on Thursday said that armed kidnappers who targeted workers from two firms in the uranium mining sector in the remote mining town of Arlit, had spoken "mostly Arabic and often Tamachek," the Tuareg language.

And French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Friday: "Those who took these men and women could be Touaregs working to order. They will sell them to the terrorists, who are not themselves very numerous."

But Tchewiren, once the spokeman for the Movement of Nigeriens for Justice (MNJ), the onetime Tuareg rebel force, said: "This is a serious accusation, it's too gross and ridiculous thus to accuse the Tuareg people."

"The Tuareg community is not responsible for the actions of a few individuals, even if they're members of this community," he added.

"I think that the kidnappings were carried out by AQIM. Simple bandits don't operate in such a well organised fashion."

Between 2007 and 2009, the MNJ was the main rebel group operating in the northern Agadez region.

They said they were fighting for a fairer distribution of the wealth from the uranium mining, Niger's only resource.

© 2010 AFP

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