August 27, 2007 / 9:06 PM / 12 years ago

Gaddafi sues Niger papers for Tuareg rebel claims

NIAMEY, Aug 27 (Reuters) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is suing two newspapers in Niger for more than $200,000 each after they suggested his government was supporting Tuareg-led rebels in the north of the country, his lawyer said on Monday.

Souley Oumarou said he had presented the complaint against weekly Le Canard Dechaine and bi-monthly Action for damages of 100 million CFA francs ($208,300) each, which would be donated to Niger’s National Hospital in the capital Niamey.

"The complaint has been registered and a hearing set for September 17," Oumarou told Reuters.

The seven-month-old uprising by light-skinned Tuareg rebels in desolate, uranium-rich northern deserts of Niger has killed more than 40 government troops and left dozens prisoner.

Gaddafi, who has long been an advocate of Tuareg empowerment and an Islamic state spanning the Sahel, has beeen called upon by President Tandja to mediate in the conflict. Gaddafi called publicly on the rebels, who are seeking a greater share in uranium mining revenues, to lay down their arms.

In a July 23 article entitled "Gaddafi wants a piece of Niger", Le Canard Dechaine alleged the the Libyan leader was supporting the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) to provide leverage for claims over 30,000 square km of Niger territory.

Niger President Mamadou Tandja’sovernment says the French nuclear power firm Areva CEPFi.PA, involved in uranium mining in northern Niger, was providing support to the revolt. The company and the French government has strongly denied this.

Tuareg revolts shook northern Niger and Mali in the 1990s before a series of peace deals handed the nomadic people greater autonomy, but recent months have seen a resurgence in violence.

In Mali, Tuareg gunmen abducted around 20 soldiers at the weekend in a remote Saharan town and took them off towards Niger.

Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure said at the weekend during a visit to Tripoli that he had agreed with Gaddafi to organise a regional summit to discuss security in the Sahel.

Gaddafi has a long history of involvement in civil conflict in West Africa, including a lengthy war with Chad and support for the leader of Sierra Leone’s RUF rebel group, Foday Sankoh, who fought a 1991-2002 civil war against the government.

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