Niger rebels sayd kill 12 soldiers in ambush

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NIAMEY, Oct 27 (Reuters) Niger's Tuareg-led rebels said today they had killed at least 12 soldiers and destroyed two army vehicles in the desert north of the central African country, but the military denied this.

The Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), which has already killed more than 45 soldiers during an eight-month uprising, said on its Web site it carried out the ambush at dawn on Thursday near Touara, in the region of Agadez.

The MNJ has not staged any attacks since the start of the Muslim fast of Ramadan last month, during which it had declared a truce.

The deputy head of Niger's army, Colonel Garba Maikido, told national radio that only a few soldiers had been lightly injured after a vehicle ran over a mine near the Algerian border.

Maikido was speaking at the presentation of a seizure of 1.1 tonnes of cannabis resin, worth an estimated 7 billion CFA francs 15.33 million dollar, captured by an army patrol in the northern region of Air.

Soldiers also seized arms, munitions and aircraft fuel.

President Mamadou Tandja's government has refused to recognise the MNJ, blaming the violence in northern Niger on bandits and smugglers of arms and drugs.

The rebels demand greater regional autonomy and want a larger share of revenues from major uranium mines in the region to be spent on local development.

Niger's uranium provides around a quarter of France's electricity and French state-run utility Areva operates mines in the region.

Chinese investors hope to start production soon.

REUTERS SZ PM0131

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