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Niger: uranium hot spot

Vladimir Rychin, AtomInfo.Ru, PUBLISHED October 13, 2010

AREVA will return the foreign workers to the uranium deposits in Niger, which have been evacuated after the September seizure of seven hostages. The kidnappers demand the abolition of the ban on wearing Muslim headscarves in France, the release of their imprisoned comrades, and ransom payments to 7 million euros.


In the north, Niger, photo Greenpeace

Staff returned to the Arlit

The epic of the hostages is far from complete, but the uranium business could not stand still. Niger - main uranium storeroom for French nuclear industry, and mines in the north of this country should not be left unattended.

The French press reported that AREVA will return to the Arlit and other northern cities Niger "some staff". It will happen in the "coming weeks." The company promises to make every effort to ensure the safety of its people and prevent a recurrence of the events of September.

On the night of September 16, unidentified gunmen kidnapped in Arlit five employees SATOM, one employee AREVA and his wife. Subsequently, it was clarified that the five kidnapped workers SATOM - three French, one citizen of Madagascar, and one citizen of Togo.

Company SATOM - a subsidiary of the corporation VINCI, created in 1951 to implement the African orders. In Niger SATOM fulfils contracts of the French nuclear companies for uranium mines.

For security Arlit is guarded by the Niger army, as well as unarmed security guards, hired by a AREVA. Nigerian authorities now accuse the French of being too big hope in the possibility of their guards. It was found that it was one of its employees at gunpoint showed militants road to the houses, which were home to expatriate professionals.

The responsibility for the raid in Arlit is claimed by group Al Qaeda Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). To date, the hostages are alive, but they have a problem. At the hands of militants Frenchwoman suffering from cancer and shortly before the kidnapping took place a course of chemotherapy. In Paris, full of the most gloomy forebodings about her fate.

Vent pipe uranium mine in Niger, photo Greenpeace

Illusory hopes

AQIM is supposedly ready to negotiate, but demands leaked to the press look absolutely unacceptable for the French. Militants want of money (one million euros per person), the release from prison of an unknown number of his comrades, as well as lifting the ban on the wearing of Muslim headscarves in France.

Action in Arlit was the second in a row, AQIM carried out against the French. At summer the group kidnapped 78-year-old citizen of France. Paris sent to Africa special forces, supported by troops from Mauritania, and stormed the base of AQIM.

During the operation, seven insurgents were killed, and it could be considered a success if not for one - the hostage on the base was not there. Two days later he was beheaded in revenge for the actions of the French.

The Government of Niger is ready to strengthen control over the north and to dispatch additional troops, so that nobody can interfere in the process of uranium mining. The problem is that Niger itself does not have force. Strength of the army of this African country is 5300 persons, and another is about the same in various paramilitary units.

In the capital city of Niamey, Niger, all is quiet, as in general can be easy in any African city. Both local and foreigners feel at Niamey in relative safety. But uranium is not mined in the capital and the north, and he compared with the Niamey - all the same that other planet.

In the north, Niger, photo Greenpeace

Plexus threats

In the desert regions of Africa, occupying the north of Nigeria who came for the uranium nuclear industry awaits not only the hostile nature, but historically prone to armed insurgency tribes. In April 2007, AREVA challenge thrown Tuareg leaders: "The French plunder plunder our wealth and so they have to pay or leave."

The conflict in 2007 could be called as operetta. In words, threatening the French, the Tuaregs attacked either the government forces or the Chinese (the latter are also very interested in the Niger mining). This gave rise Niamey publicly ask - actually, on whose side plays AREVA? Several French were even sent home on suspicion of having links with insurgents.

In 2007 it was over to mutual satisfaction. Tuareg postponed Kalashnikovs to better times, AREVA has continued to produce enriched uranium, and the government of Niger has made significant increase in compensation for the export of uranium resources.

Today, things look much worse. Instead, the Tuareg nuclear industry opposes sinister al-Qaida, quickly gaining adherents in the Maghreb. AQIM has there own Afghanistan. At a regional faction leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar has established strong relationships with government officials and senior military in Mali. For this reason or another, but that state demonstrates to the militants increased loyalty.

Even greater complications threaten the emerging alliance of Al Qaeda and the Tuareg. Belmokhtar clinched his most traditional way - by marrying a girl from one of the Tuareg tribes.

Known Niger diplomat and former ambassador to Libya Mr. Bahar said that the situation requires to act without delay: "The Al-Qaeda has many supporters in the Niger able to take extreme measures."

But what is meant by "work"? If we are talking about the French military intervention, then many will be opposed. In the first ranks of disaffected arise Algeria, the former once the scene of fierce anti-colonial battle against the French.

Algeria prefers to fight the militants on their own, without help from Europe. Moreover, Algeria is seeking military leadership in the region. In late September, the country held a meeting on coordinating action against AQIM, for which invited the defense ministers of Mali, Mauritania and Niger. The meeting, like all previous ones, ended with no results - a common strategy could be reached.

In addition to political reasons, in Algeria, there are more prosaic reasons for dissatisfaction with the actions of the Europeans. Latest too often willing to pay a ransom for their kidnapped people. With the money AQIM acquire weapons and ammunition, which are then used in terrorist attacks in Algeria.

But Paris has neither the time nor the inclination to listen to the dismay of Algeria. Uranuium will not wait, and France is ready to go to any - or almost any - measures to ensure the safety of its nuclear scientists in Arlit and other cities in the north of Niger.

Topics: Uranium, Africa, AREVA

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