Page last updated at 16:30 GMT, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 17:30 UK

Niger rebels deny ceasefire claim

Tuaregs on camels
The Tuareg are a historically nomadic people living in remote desert regions

Tuareg rebels in Niger say they are willing to have peace talks with the government but have denied that they are ready to lay down their arms.

Tuareg spokesman Butali Tchewerein told the BBC the rebels would speak to the government anywhere outside Niger.

Earlier, a government spokesman had said they had agreed to cease fighting after talks with Libya's leader.

Muammar Gaddafi has been leading peace efforts after Tuareg nomads revolted in Niger and Mali last year.

Great autonomy

Mr Tchewerein of the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) described comments that the group was laying down its weapons as "a lie".

He told the BBC's Hausa service that the group was happy for Mr Gaddafi to continue as mediator and that it was willing to have face-to-face talks with the government of Niger.

"We never said we will not go into negotiations, but not inside Niger," Mr Tchewerein said.

"We don't like always carrying guns," he added.

The MNJ says it is fighting for greater autonomy and for a larger share of uranium revenue.

Tuareg militants in Mali and Niger have been engaged in sporadic armed struggles for several decades.

But analysts are divided over whether the Tuareg revolts have been driven by genuine political grievances or efforts to defend control of drugs, arms and migrant-smuggling routes.

Mr Tchewerein said it was the government who made negative claims about the rebels.

"We are not bandits nor do we deal in drugs; that isn't part of what we do," he said.

Tuaregs are a historically nomadic people living in the Sahara and Sahel regions of North Africa.

Q&A: Tuareg unrest
07 Sep 07 |  Africa

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