The missing UN special envoy to Niger Mr. Robert Fowler is still no-where-to-be-found. According to reports, the United Nations head office has rallied aid from Canada, as well as Niger and other West Africa countries to strengthen the search and rescue opertaion of the ambassador who has been missing since December 15th.
In a message posted on the website of 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.
According to UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe, “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. The UN is pursuing all appropriate channels to secure the safe return of Robert Fowler.”
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.
The group are thought to have visited the gold mining region of Samira before they went missing.
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.
“We will not comment or release any information which may compromise those efforts and endanger the safety of these persons, ” Marie Okabe added. Tuareg rebels have however been engaged in armed struggles against the Niger government for several decades.