Mutinous Soldiers Return to Barracks, Government Promises to Pay Up
NIAMEY, Niger (AP) _ Soldiers took over the state radio station and detained the country’s interim leader and interior minister, but freed the officials and returned to their barracks today after the government promised them back pay, diplomats said.
The soldiers had also occupied and closed the international airport, but they withdrew and it reopened, said a telephone operator at the airport.
Soldiers who had been driving around the capital shooting into the air also returned to barracks, the diplomats said. Despite the gunfire, there were no reports of injuries.
Thousands of students, who had taken to the streets to protest the soldiers’ actions and demand the continuation of Niger’s transition to multiparty democracy, returned to their university campus after the soldiers withdrew.
Niger’s 3,200-man army, like all government employees in this impoverished West African nation, had not been paid for two months.
In a communique, the soldiers had announced the arrests of Andre Salifou, president of Niger’s high council, an interim body installed after a national conference last November. The communique also claimed the arrest of Interior Minister Mohamed Moussa.
Later the mutineers had announced on the radio that they were freeing Salifou and Moussa because of an agreement to begin taking action on their grievances. It did not say with whom the agreement was made.
Moussa telephoned government officials to confirm the two had been freed, said the diplomats. They said Salifou was expected to make an address to the nation soon.
The diplomats, reached by telephone, also said the soldiers left the radio station after the government promised to pay them immediately. Niger radio, which had been broadcasting military music interspersed with communiques of the soldiers’ demands, began airing traditional music.
The soldiers withdrew from the airport around noon, said the telephone operator, speaking on condition of anonymity, and a French passenger jet that had been turned away earlier was returning, he said.
Government sources said military officials and the Ministry of Finance had assured the soldiers they would immediately receive their January salaries. The soldiers had been demanding two months’ back pay. The mutineers also had demanded the ouster of the army chief of staff, Commandant Abou Mamane.
The diplomats said it appeared the mutineers had the support of all the main garrisons in the country, including those in the capital, Niamey; at Agades, 500 miles northeast of Niamey; and Zinder, 470 miles to the east.
There were unconfirmed reports that mutinous soldiers had freed from prison a controversial army officer, Capt. Maliki Boureima, who was held responsible for an expedition in May 1990 in which 63 Tuareg nomads were executed.
The interim government was installed by the national conference on democracy that stripped power from Gen. Ali Saibou, who had ruled since 1987. The conference was convened after widespread unrest in support of multiparty democracy, something the country had not had since independence from France in 1960.
Niger is among the more than 15 African nations that abandoned single-party rule since 1990.