Niger expels French film-maker accused of rebel ties

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NIAMEY, Oct 6 (Reuters) Authorities in Niger have expelled a French documentary film-maker for suspected links to a Tuareg-led rebellion in the desert north.

Francois Bergeron, an independent film-maker who has been working on a series of documentaries about Tuareg nomads in Niger, was arrested in August in Agadez, a Saharan trading town at the centre of an 8-month-old Tuareg uprising.

The Tuareg-led Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) launched an uprising in February to demand more economic development and a fairer share of the natural resources in a region which contains some of the world's largest reserves of uranium.

''The authorities last night expelled film producer Francois Bergeron, who was arrested in Agadez on suspicion of links to the MNJ armed group,'' a senior police officer, who asked not to be named, told Reuters in the capital Niamey.

MNJ has killed at least 45 government soldiers in the west African country and taken dozens more captive since then. The army has imposed a curfew in Agadez and turned the north into a military zone from which foreign journalists are banned.

A local journalist working for French radio station RFI was arrested two weeks ago on suspicion of having links to the rebels. Moussa Kaka, director of a private radio station and RFI's Niger correspondent, was accused of endangering state security and receiving gifts for reports on the MNJ.

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

The police official said Bergeron had concealed his identity in order to operate in the north, where the light-skinned nomads staged a full-scale rebellion in the 1990s to demand greater autonomy from a black African-dominated government.

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

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

REUTERS SKB RK1740

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