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Page last updated at 13:28 GMT, Wednesday, 24 December 2008

UN 'seeking missing Niger envoy'

Robert Fowler (archive image)
Mr Fowler became the UN special envoy to Niger in July

The UN says it is working with Canada, as well as Niger and others in West Africa to help locate a missing UN special envoy to Niger.

A spokeswoman said the UN was pursuing all appropriate channels to secure the safe return of Robert Fowler, a former Canadian ambassador to the UN.

The UN said he went missing in Niger on 15 December while on official business.

Tuareg rebels initially said they had seized Mr Fowler, and three others, but later denied any kidnappings.

"The UN, the government of Canada and the government of Niger are working in close partnership with each other and regional actors to resolve this case," said UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe.

"We will not comment or release any information which may compromise those efforts and endanger the safety of these persons," she added.

In a message posted on its website last week, the Tuareg Front des Forces de Redressement (FFR) said it had taken Mr Fowler and three other people.

But in two later statements, the group denied taking any hostages - saying it had been the victim of disinformation.

Tuareg rebels have been engaged in armed struggles against the Niger government for several decades.

Search underway

The veteran Canadian diplomat was with another Canadian and a local driver when he went missing about 40km (25 miles) from the Niger capital, Niamey.

The diplomat's vehicle was eventually found with its engine still running, a UN spokesman said.

UN officials said Mr Fowler, who is based in Canada, was in Niger for meetings with officials.

But in a statement issued after his disappearance, Niger's foreign ministry said that Mr Fowler was in the country on private business and had left Niamey without informing the authorities.

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The group are thought to have visited the gold mining region of Samira before they went missing.

The region is some distance from fighting in the north between the army and Tuareg rebels.

Mr Fowler retired from the Canadian foreign service two years after a long career that included postings as ambassador to Italy and the United Nations.

He has been serving since July as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special envoy to Niger.

The Tuaregs have traditionally been a nomadic people roaming across the Sahara Desert but some took up arms, saying the Niger government is not doing enough to improve their lives.

The FFR broke away from the better known Tuareg MNJ rebels, who are fighting for greater autonomy and a larger share of northern Niger's vast mineral wealth.

The MNJ has had frequent clashes with the country's army and has also kidnapped foreigners working in the uranium mines.



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SEE ALSO
Country profile: Niger
18 Jun 08 |  Country profiles

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