In the face of “persistent acts of banditry in the border area”, senior government officials from Niger and Mali have agreed to jointly guard their 1,000km of shared border against the movement of drugs, guns and people, and improve coordination in the region.
Niger’s Interior Minister, Albade Abouba, and his counterpart in Mali, General Sadio Gassama, reached the agreement on 21 August at a meeting in Gao, northern Mali, at which they reportedly said a 2002 deal between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso to create a joint brigade to curb trafficking of light arms, secure borders and distribute humanitarian aid should be revitalised.
The agreement comes at a time when insecurity is spiking in northern Niger. Persistent attacks on army bases, road transport and uranium mining facilities are being claimed by the National Movement for Justice (MNJ), which purports to be a rebel group fighting for development in Niger. The Nigerien government has accused the perpetrators of being bandits and drug smugglers profiting from instability in the remote desert region.
“Noting persistent acts of banditry in the shared border area, the two delegations agree to reinforce the cross-border cooperation between security and defence forces on one hand, and administrative authorities and communities on the other,” according to a communiqué released after the meeting, published in newspapers in Niger’s capital Niamey on Friday.
“Insecurity linked to banditry and criminality in all its forms that was curbed before is unfortunately a dangerous menace to peace, stability and progress again,” Nigerien minister Abouba reportedly said in his opening remarks at the meeting, Le Sahel newspaper in Niamey said.
There have been occasional news reports of links between the Touareg-dominated MNJ in Niger and other Touareg groups in neighbouring Mali and Algeria. During a previous uprising by Touareg in Niger and Mali there were strong links between some wings of the movements, however the violence this year in Niger has not been replicated outside the country.
The meeting on 21 August recommended investment by both governments in the operational capacities of the defence and security forces to improve logistics, communications, and human resources along the border and “intensified cooperation” to track real-time information about threats and movements in the region, the communiqué said.
“The bandits in Niger must be pinpointed in Mali and be tracked just as if they had been found on Niger’s territory,” Mali’s General Gassama was reported to have said.