Niger : Mine explosion in Niamey

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A landmine that exploded under a car in the Nigerien capital Niamey on 8 January killed one civilian and wounded another, agencies report.

According to the BBC, the explosion occurred in the Yantala district of the city where many top army officers live. The Niamey explosion marks the first time an 11-month-old campaign of steadily escalating violence in the remote north of the country has reached the capital.

Landmine explosions, ambushes and skirmishes with the army have already displaced at least 11,000 people and cut off large parts of the northern region from humanitarian aid.

In mid-December, two landmines exploded in the centre of the southern town Maradi and the central town Tahoua. Both of those explosions also caused civilian casualties. No group has claimed responsibility for any of the explosions.

A rebel group, the Nigerien Movement for Justice (MNJ), which claims to be fighting for political and economic autonomy for the mineral-rich, Touareg-dominated north of the country, has been accused by human rights groups of laying mines indiscriminately.

In a report released in December, Human Rights Watch said since the MNJ started its campaign in February 2007, 80 people have been killed or wounded by mines, of whom one third are civilians.

In interviews with IRIN in late December 2007, the MNJ accused the Nigerien army of laying mines in urban areas to try to turn public opinion against it.

But Niger’s government warned in a statement justifying the extension of a national state of emergency in November that the MNJ was planning a campaign of urban terror.

Niger is among the poorest countries in the world and over half of its roughly 13 million people, many of them peasant farmers, rely heavily on international aid.

In years of bad harvests or high market prices, over half of Nigeriens may suffer from some form of malnutrition. On average, one in five Nigerien children dies before their fifth birthday.

Increased restrictions on movement of people in the south would have much larger humanitarian implications than the already existing problems in the north, as that is where most of Niger’s population lives and where humanitarian needs are greatest.

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