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08NIAMEY408 2008-04-08 15:26:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Niamey
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1. (U) The GON's long awaited offensive against the MNJ has
apparently begun. There have been reports of fighting in
several locations in the north. As is usually the case, the
GON and MNJ provide contradictory reports of events,
particularly regarding casualties. Much has been made of the
MNJ claims to have captured the town of Gougaram, although it
appears that it did so only after government forces withdrew
from the town. It's not clear if either the GON or the MNJ
control the town now.

2. (U) The MNJ claims that GON forces have committed serious
human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial
killings, in its recent operations. Amnesty International
issued a statement which largely tracks with the MNJ claims.
GON spokesman Ben Omar dismissed the AI report and said there
was no need to investigate the allegations.


Fighting in the Southeast


3. (C) The MNJ website on April 8 reported that the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of the Sahara (known by its French
acronym FARS) attacked GON forces near Lake Chad April 4 and
5, killing seven soldiers and capturing six. This comes a
few days after the MNJ web site ran a communique purportedly
from the FARS expressing its support for the MNJ. The GON has
not commented publicly on the incident, but military sources
describe the incident as a chance encounter between the
security forces and traffickers, which resulted in one death
on each side.

4. (U) The FARS is a predominately Toubou group. The Toubou
are a nomadic people who straddle the Niger/Chad border.
They also fought the GON in the early 1990s, in loose
association with the various Tuareg groups under the umbrella
of the Organization of Armed Resistance (known by the French
acronym ORA). There are conflicting reports regarding the
relationship of the group that currently claims to be the
FARS and its 1990s predecessor According to one report, the
FARS are currently demanding that the GON provide information
on the death of one of their former leaders.

5. (U) Minimize considered