Niger journalist arrested for suspected rebel ties

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NIAMEY, Sep 22 (Reuters) A local journalist in Niger working for French radio station RFI has been arrested on suspicion of having links to Tuareg-led rebels in the desert north, the state prosecutor said.

Moussa Kaka, director of a private radio station and RFI's Niger correspondent, was accused of receiving gifts or direct payment for reports on the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), which has killed dozens of soldiers in a 7-month uprising.

''In view of the nature of his behaviour for some time, we can assert that he is, if not completely in the service of the MNJ, at least in connivance with this movement,'' state prosecutor Adama Harouna said in a statement, late yesterday.

''The links to the MNJ are patent and numerous.'' Radio France International (RFI) confirmed on its Web site that Kaka was wanted for endangering state security and had been arrested at the offices of his private radio station late on Thursday, since when he had been held at a secret location.

It gave no further details.

The MNJ has killed more than 40 soldiers this year and taken several dozen hostage as part of a campaign to demand more development for the remote desert north, a region which contains some of the world's largest uranium reserves.

The government refuses to recognise the group, dismissing them as common bandits and drug traffickers.

It has banned foreign journalists from travelling to the region around the ancient Saharan caravan town of Agadez, the seat of the rebellion, but the MNJ continues to make statements to the media via satellite phone, its representatives in Europe and its Website m-n-j.blogspot.com.

Niger's media watchdog suspended local FM broadcasts by RFI for a month in July, accusing the French state-run channel of showing bias in favour of the insurgents.

International press rights bodies expressed alarm at the time, after the watchdog also banned a regional newspaper for three months and warned several others to censor their reporting of the uprising.

REUTERS SBC KN1720

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