DAKAR, Senegal – An international rights group said Thursday that Niger's army has taken its campaign against a northern rebel group to the civilian population — killing and torturing townspeople, forcing them to head convoys driving through mined areas and burning their homes.
London-based Amnesty International said its contacts on the ground have recorded multiple cases of extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances as the army pushes to route rebels from the Niger Movement for Justice from the northern desert region.
The group is calling on Niger's government to "immediately order security forces to end extra-judicial executions and forced disappearances," the group's assistant Africa director, Veronique Aubert, said in a statement.
The army appears to have launched violent reprisals against the civilian population around the town of Agadez following clashes with rebels in late March, Amnesty said.
The rebel group has made similar accusations, which the government has repeatedly denied.
On one occasion, soldiers conscripted a civilian to drive at the head of their convoy on a mined road to protect the military from hitting mines, the group said. The civilian driver hit an explosive and was injured, at which point the soldiers took him to a medical facility.
The group accused the military of arresting and executing civilians, as well as seizing belongings and burning homes. It said soldiers killed a 67-year-old herder in the town of Dabaga as he was returning from his fields with his donkeys.
Military forces also cut the ears of a tradesman and set his hair on fire before stabbing him to death, Amnesty said. At least four other civilians were killed by soldiers in recent weeks while four more have disappeared from villages around Agadez, the group said.
Calls to government officials for comment on the most recent accusations were not immediately returned.
The ethnic Tuareg rebels have battled army forces sporadically for more than a year in what they say is a fight to protect ancestral lands that the government wants to seize for uranium mining.
The government has repeatedly accused the rebels of being bandits and drug smugglers.