Niamey, Niger: Scores of people have been killed in raids on villages near Niger’s border with Mali, a zone notorious for jihadist attacks, local and security sources told AFP Monday.
“Armed men arrived on motorbikes and shot at everything which moved. They attacked Intazayene, Bakoarate, and Wistane and surrounding areas” on Sunday, a local official said.
The source put the number of fatalities at least 40.
A security source confirmed the attack and said the provisional toll was 60 dead.
The three villages are located in the Tahoua region, abutting the Tillaberi region in the so-called “tri-border area” where the frontiers of Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali converge.
The world’s poorest nation according to the UN’s development rankings for 189 countries, Niger is also struggling with jihadist insurgencies that have spilled over from Mali and Nigeria.
Hundreds of lives have been lost, nearly half a million people have fled their homes, and devastating damage has been inflicted.
On March 15, 66 people were killed in the Tillaberi region when suspected jihadists attacked a bus carrying shoppers from the market town of Banibangou, and then raided the village of Darey-Daye, killing inhabitants and torching grain stores.
On January 2, 100 people were killed in attacks on two villages in the Mangaize district of Tillaberi.
The massacre, one of the worst in Niger’s history, occurred between two rounds of the country’s presidential election.
In December 2019, 71 Nigerien troops died in an attack at Inates, and the following month 89 were killed in an assault on their base at Chinedogar.
The Nigerien government did not immediately confirm the latest attacks.
The Sahel: Terror, poverty and climate change
With scores more villagers killed in raids near Niger’s border with Mali — taking the death toll in the region to over 130 in a week — we look at Africa’s increasingly troubled Sahel region.
The semi-arid zone that fringes the Sahara desert has become a crucible of jihadist terror, climate change, and population movement.
Here is a brief explainer on the region:
What is it?
The Sahel, or Sahil in Arabic, meaning coast or shore, is a vast region that stretches along the southern rim of the Sahara from the Atlantic to the Red Sea.
Wedged between the desert to the north and tropical forests and savannah to the south, the belt has a tropical semi-arid climate.
Where is it?
There is debate over which countries actually belong to the Sahel.
But a core group — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger — are gathered in an anti-jihadist alliance called the G5 Sahel.
Other definitions of the region take in parts of Senegal, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, and Eritrea.
Jihadist hunting ground
With vast stretches of inhospitable desert and porous borders, the central Sahel has become a hunting ground for armed groups, rebels, jihadists, and criminal gangs.
Jihadist violence erupted after a rebellion in northern Mali in 2012. The conflict spread to the center of the country and then to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, claiming thousands of lives and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
Several anti-jihadist military operations have been launched in the area, including the French operation Barkhane and the G5 Sahel force, which includes units from the five countries’ armies.
One of the bloodiest flashpoints is the so-called “tri-border area” where the frontiers of Niger, Mali, and Burkina converge.
As the world battles climate change, the effect of global warming is around 50 percent greater in the Sahel. In the last quarter of the 20th century, the region suffered the worst droughts anywhere on the planet.
This has contributed to a staggering 90 percent decline of the surface of Lake Chad over the past six decades and a race is on to stop the main source of fresh water to 40 million people across four countries drying up.
In February 17 countries set down a plan to invest $400 billion in fighting climate change in the Sahel by 2030.
The region, which is broadly very poor, has one of the highest demographic growth rates in the world.
The population of the G5 Sahel region is expected to more than double to around 170 million by 2050, according to the United Nations.
Amid the unrest, poverty, and climate change, the UN said internal displacement had increased 20-fold in less than two years and the number of families facing hunger has tripled.
The United Nations has warned of a heightened risk of famine in Burkina Faso, along with northeastern Nigeria and South Sudan, and also a high hunger risk in both Mali and Niger.
Problems have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.