China firm suspends Niger uranium activities - source / Niger rebels say to release Chinese uranium hostage
Five largely related stories from today that update, most recently, yesterday's (updated originally to add the latest bulletin from Reuters.
A Chinese mining company exploring for uranium in northern Niger has suspended its activities in the country after one of its executives was kidnapped last week, a military source said on Tuesday.
Zhang Guohua, an executive at China Nuclear International Uranium Corp. (Sino-U), was kidnapped on Friday close to Ingall, more than 1,000 km (600 miles) north of the capital, Niamey.
"At the company's request, all of its workers have been evacuated under military escort to Ingall, from where they will be taken to the regional capital, Agadez," the military source told Reuters, asking not to be named.
From Thomson Financial...
A Chinese company has shut down its uranium-prospecting operation in northern Niger, after an ultimatum from the Tuareg rebel movement there, Toureg sources said.
The China Nuclear Engineering and Construction Corporation (CNEC) pulled out after receiving threats from the rebel Movement of Niger People for Justice (MNJ), said the source in Agaez, in the north of the country.
"All the Chinese have left the site and arrived at Ingall (100 km south of Agadez), with their prospecting equipment and a major military escort," said the source.
The CNEC pull-out comes after Tuaregs of the MNJ abducted a Chinese national last Friday in the Ingall region.
An MNJ spokesman said at the time that the action had been intended as a warning to Chinese companies operating with the Niger army.
"No foreigner will be safe so long as the army continues its repression," said an MNJ statement. It has called for an immediate end to mining in the north of the country.
In April, MNJ rebels attacked the biggest uranium project of French nuclear group Areva in Imoumaren, demanding better application of the economic aspects of the 1995 peace agreements that ended a Tuareg rebellion.
The MNJ says [that] peace will not return to the north of Niger without better integration of Tuaregs into the army, paramilitary corps and the local mining sector. Since February, it has carried out attacks on military targets in the area.
Also from Reuters...
Tuareg-led rebels in northern Niger on Tuesday released a Chinese uranium executive [that] they kidnapped four days ago, a military source in the West African country said.
The source, who asked not to be named, said [that] Zhang Guohua, an executive at China Nuclear International Uranium Corp. (Sino-U), was being handed over to the Red Cross, and could be back in the capital Niamey by Wednesday.
By Reuters' Abdoulaye Massalatchi (primary story)...
(An earlier version is also still available on AlertNet.)
Tuareg-led rebels in northern Niger on Tuesday released a Chinese uranium executive [whom] they kidnapped four days ago, while his company suspended its activities in the desert region.
The Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) said [that] Zhang Guohua, an executive at China Nuclear International Uranium Corp. (Sino-U), was free and waiting to be collected by the Red Cross.
He was taken close to the desert oasis of Ingall on Friday, more than 1,000 km (600 miles) from the capital, Niamey.
"There's no problem, he's free," MNJ leader Aghaly ag Alambo told Reuters by satellite phone from northern Niger. "He's been talking to his family. We're just waiting for the Red Cross."
Government spokesman Mohamed Ben Omar confirmed [that] Zhang had been liberated, and said [that] he could be back in Niamey by Wednesday.
The MNJ kidnapped Zhang because it believed [that] his firm was helping to fund government arms purchases to suppress its uprising. It said at the time of the kidnapping [that] its action was meant as a warning, and that the hostage would not be harmed.
A military source said [that] Sino-U had suspended uranium-exploration work in the region, following the kidnap and rebel calls for foreign mining companies to withdraw expatriate staff.
"At the company's request, all of its workers have been evacuated under military escort to Ingall, from where they will be taken to the regional capital, Agadez," the source said.
Niger's government has granted around 70 mining exploration permits for its desert north, home to the world's fourth-biggest uranium-mining industry, and 100 more are under consideration. Sino-U is one of dozens of foreign firms operating in the area.
The MNJ, made up largely of Tuareg and other nomadic tribes, has launched a series of attacks since February against military and mining interests in and around Agadez, scene of a full-scale rebellion in the early 1990s.
It says [that] the central government is neglecting the region, and wants local people to have greater control over its mineral resources, which also include iron ore, silver and platinum.
In its first public statement since the beginning of the MNJ campaign, Niger's army called on the population to remain calm, and said [that] it was committed to protecting the nation.
"We call on the people of Niger to lend moral support to the armed forces engaged on the ground in a conflict which threatens a hard-won peace and security," army spokesman Abdoulkarim Goukoye said in an address on national radio.
The MNJ accuses the government of using the proceeds from mining permits to buy two Russian-made Mi-24 attack helicopters to strike its positions, and says [that] the army has Chinese weapons which it is using in a brutal crackdown on civilians.
"The weapons that we seized in the recent attacks (on military outposts) showed that most of the arms [that] the government forces are using are Chinese-made," ag Alambo said.
Defence Ministry officials have declined to comment.
Pressure has been building on the president to hold talks with the leaders of the uprising. But the government refuses to recognise the MNJ, and has dismissed its attacks, in which at least 33 soldiers have been killed, as acts of common banditry.
A Chinese company has shut down its uranium-prospecting operation in northern Niger after threats from the Tuareg rebel group.
Military officials and sources close to the company say [that] the China Nuclear Engineering and Construction Corporation halted operations after receiving threats from the rebel Niger Movement for Justice. The sources say [that] all of the company's workers have been evacuated with their prospecting equipment to Ingall, about 100 kilometers northeast of the capital, Niamey.
The rebel group kidnapped an executive of the company four days ago, but [on] Tuesday, it promised to release him to the Red Cross.
Niger is one of the world's leading producers of uranium.
The Niger Movement for Justice is made up of members of the Tuareg ethnic group and other tribes. It has carried out a series of attacks against government and foreign interests in the region, in recent months.
The group contends that Niger's government has failed to live up to a 1995 peace deal promising local residents greater control over the region's rich natural resources.