France: Sarkozy aims to defuse Niger/Areva row
Liberville, July 28: French President Nicolas Sarkozy said today he wanted a quick end to a spat between uranium mining company Areva and Niger, which barred a top executive over accusations the firm helped fund a rebellion.
Niger's interior minister declared Areva's country chief Dominique Pin persona non grata on Tuesday while he was out of the West African state.
''We are trying to untangle the strands of this and see what happened exactly,'' Sarkozy said during a news conference with Gabon President Omar Bongo, adding he would take action in coming days.
''This is not the first crisis Niger has gone through. I have full confidence in the democratic authorities of Niger to overcome this crisis and we will take an initiative to try to renew dialogue,'' he said.
Niger is an important country for France as it is one of the main producers of military-grade uranium, which explains the presence of Areva, he added.
Earlier, French Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Denis Simonneau said the country's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner would meet his Niger counterpart Aichatou Mindaoudou in Paris on Monday to discuss the problem.
France has condemned violence in northern Niger and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner will propose visiting the country when he meets Mindaoudou, Simonneau said.
The Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), led by Tuareg nomads, has killed at least 36 soldiers and captured dozens more since it launched a rebellion in February demanding greater autonomy for the Saharan region where most of Niger's uranium is mined.
Areva has denied supporting the MNJ and said the accusations are completely unfounded.
A security adviser for the company's uranium operations in northern Niger was expelled several weeks ago in a move local media linked to government accusations that the company had links with the rebellion.
The French government has a majority stake in Areva, which makes nuclear reactors and mines uranium, among other activities.
Tuareg groups fought a rebellion in the area in the early 1990s, which ended with a 1995 peace deal that promised more investment in the sparsely populated north and incorporated former rebel fighters into the ranks of government forces.
The MNJ says the peace deal has not been fully respected.
The government insists it has met its obligations and refuses to negotiate with the rebels, whom it dismisses as drug traffickers and bandits.