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Intercommunal forums seek to end deadly violence in Niger

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Traditional chiefs, officials, human rights activists and NGOs have been criss-crossing the vast Tillaberi region of western Niger for several months.

Their mission: to organize forums in a bid to ease community tensions revived by massacres of civilians in the landlocked West African nation.

In the past, disputes between the various ethnic groups were settled in peaceful fashion by traditional or religious leaders.

These rows were often over land or access to water between the settled farming communities, Djerma and Hausa, and the nomadic herders of the Fulani and Tuareg groups..

But since 2015, a permanent climate of mistrust and vendetta has emerged with atrocities and cattle raids committed by jihadist groups linked to the Islamic State (IS), suspected of belonging mainly to the Fulani community.

Tillaberi is located in the flashpoint “three borders” zone of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, where jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) operate.

The ISGS controls large areas near Burkina and Mali, and its fighters have already come within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of the capital Niamey.

“For some time, we have been facing another form of insecurity,” Moussa Sadou Kalilou, spokesman for the traditional chiefs of Tillaberi, said on public television last week, after talks with Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum.

– ‘Stigmatisation’ –

The leaders reported to the president on “awareness-raising efforts” to eliminate the ethnic “stigmatization” that fuels these tensions, he said.

The month of May was particularly bloody in the region.

Early last month violent clashes between Djermas and Fulanis in villages and Niger river islands in the southwest of the country left a dozen people dead and 18,000 displaced.

On May 27, 13 people, including women and children, were killed in the towns of Anzourou and Sakoira. That dispute was sparked by an accusation of cattle rustling.

In mid-May, the UN described the situation as “very volatile and unpredictable,” marked by “repeated attacks” and “inter-communal reprisals” leading to population movements.

Boubacar Diallo, president of an association of cattle herders in north Tillaberi, told AFP that “inter-communal conflicts have worsened because the stigmatization” of the Fulani people is growing.

He decried that the whole community was being tarnished by the acts of a much smaller group of “terrorists”.

“We are going to criss-cross towns and villages to explain to people the merits of peaceful coexistence,” Niger’s Interior Minister Hamadou Adamou Souley told Anzourou residents early this month.

*- Peace agreements -*

Such forums have already registered successes in solve conflicts peacefully.

In the northern and eastern parts of the Tillaberi region, “community peace agreements”, a kind of non-aggression pact, have been signed between the protagonists, under the aegis of the Swiss-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD).

Agreements have notably been reached in Banibangou in January and Tondikiwindi in June.

Both towns were the scene of massacres of hundreds of villagers by Islamic State fighters in 2021.

Before these agreements, villagers had created self-defense militias, resulting in bloody clashes with jihadists and reprisals against herders.

But five months after the Banibangou deal was reached, “not a drop of blood has been shed, no incident has been reported on the main roads” where attacks were frequent, mayor Alhassane Adoum said.

“Farmers “who had not cultivated their fields for three years started sowing” seeds a few days ago, he told AFP.

“Even herders who fled for fear of reprisals are back with their cattle,” said local journalist Adamou Moussa.

By this “human security approach”, Niger has “Pulled the rug from under the feet of the (jihadist) movements by establishing an open dialogue involving community leaders”, Bakary Sambe, regional director of the Timbuktu Institute think tank, said in televised comments.

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©️ Agence France-Presse

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