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Thursday, 1 August, 2002, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Fear grips mutinous Niger town
Residents of the south-eastern Niger town of Diffa, where soldiers have mutinied, are afraid of being caught in the middle of a bloody battle.

The BBC's Idy Baraou in the capital, Niamey, says that more than 500 government soldiers with heavy artillery have left for Diffa, around 1,400km away.

He told BBC Focus on Africa that they have travelled by road, which may take up to 24 hours, because Diffa airport is controlled by the rebels.

Meanwhile, military sources said several army officers had been detained in the capital on Thursday, according to Reuters news agency.

The soldiers mutinied on Wednesday, making three main demands:

  • Five months' back-pay
  • The dismissal of the chief of staff
  • A meeting with Prime Minister Hama Amadou

The government declared a state of emergency in the Diffa region, while the mutineers have imposed a curfew from 1600 local time (1500GMT) until dawn.

They have taken hostage several officers and local administrators and demand that Mr Amadou meet them alone and with no pre-conditions.

The government has ruled out any negotiations with the mutineers and has warned they will be "crushed".

Frequent complaint

Our correspondent says that they had looted civilian property in the town.

Niger soldiers (Pic: Focus on Africa magazine)
Niger soldiers have a history of mutinies and coups

Trouble spread from Diffa, on the border with Nigeria, to another barracks 120 km (75 miles) away at Nguigmi.

The mutineers arrested the regional governor, Karadji Ayarga, as well as the army garrison commander and the mayor of the town.

They also took over a local radio station and broadcast their demands for improved pay and conditions of service - a frequent complaint in the Niger army.

Isolated

Diffa is a strategic garrison town and was the base from which the government ended a rebellion by ethnic Toubous in 2000.

Our correspondent says that soldiers posted to the desert region often feel isolated and ignored by the authorities in the capital.

President Mamadou Tandja
This is the first mutiny since Tandja's election

It is the first mutiny in Niger since the election of President Mamadou Tandja, who comes from Diffa.

The landlocked former French colony - one of the poorest countries in the world - saw a spate of army mutinies in the late 1990s.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Iddy Barou on Network Africa
"No-one can get to Diffa"
See also:

26 Jul 01 | Country profiles
10 May 01 | Africa
07 Dec 01 | Africa
27 Nov 99 | Africa
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