NIAMEY, Nov 11 (Reuters) - Libya has begun repatriating hundreds of Nigerien Tuareg rebel fighters, state television in Niger reported on Wednesday, the latest sign of progress in pacifying Niger’s north after two years of revolt.
The fighters, who are from an MNJ faction of Niger’s Tuareg rebels who launched an uprising in 2007, had laid down their weapons in Libya, a country that they used as a base but also acted as mediator to end the conflict in the uranium miner.
Over the last 48 hours, 386 rebels have been flown back to the town of Agadez, in Niger’s north, the television reported.
"We are happy to see that these young men who took up arms have returned home to take part in building their country," Abba Malam Boukar, the governor of the Agadez region, which is home to most of the uranium and was central to the violence, said.
The rebels launched their uprising calling for more representation for the nomadic Tuareg people and a greater share of the minerals mined in Niger’s north, where they live.
Tuaregs in neighbouring Mali have also been fighting their government over the last few years. Both rebellions can be traced back to failures to end similar uprisings in the two countries in the 1990s.
Having intially dismissed the rebels as bandits and smugglers, Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja earlier this year accepted Libyan help in ending the conflict and has agreed to amnesty all rebels who disarm. Two rebel factions have agreed to disarm while a third, the FFR led by Rhissa Ag Boula, has said it wants to join the peace process but is not yet ready to lay down its weapons.
The violence in Niger’s north closed down the tourism industry and threatened mining operations. French nuclear giant Areva plans to open a 1.2 billion euro uranium mine in Niger, making the desert state a leading global uranium exporter. (Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Ralph Boulton)