At least 30 “bandits” have been killed during a three-week military crackdown by Niger and Nigeria along their troubled frontier where kidnappings and cattle rustling are rife, a Nigerien minister said on Tuesday, October 16.
Criminal gangs had been operating in a “sanctuary” of dense forest between the Maradi area of southern Niger and the border with Nigeria, Niger’s interior minister Bazoum Mohamed said.
The three-week operation by the two armies meant authorities were now “fully in control” of the region.
“No fewer than 30 bandits were killed, a dozen taken prisoner and 12 of their bases have been dismantled,” he said on local television, adding that the bases were in Nigeria.
He said the groups kidnapped for ransom, robbed traders and stole cattle “on a large scale” to drive into Nigeria.
“The situation had worsened to the point” where the leaders of both countries had agreed to the security crackdown, Bazoum Mohamed said.
“We are in the midst of clean-up operations,” he said.
In August, Niger’s government had announced it was sending security reinforcements to the Maradi area on the southern-central part of the border, which abuts the northwestern Nigerian state of Zamfara.
Farming and cattle herding communities in Zamfara have for years been targeted by gangs of cattle thieves and kidnappers who raid villages, steal cows and abduct locals for ransom.
As a hideout, the gangs use the Ruggu forest which straddles Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna states.
The attacks have prompted villagers to form militia groups for protection but they, too, have been accused of taking the law into their own hands and killing suspected bandits.
Those killings attract reprisals from motorcycle-riding criminal gangs, who carry out indiscriminate killings and arson in retaliation.
In April, the Nigerian government deployed troops to Zamfara to fight the gangs while the police outlawed the vigilantes to end the tit-for-tat killings.
Conflict between famers and herders is also a significant threat in Nigeria.
The conflict between central Nigeria’s herders and farmers is stoked by ethnic rivalries and access to land. Within Nigeria some commentators have sought to blame language or religious differences for the violence, as most of the Fulani herders involved in the attacks are Muslim, and most farmers are Christians from the Berom and other ethnic groups.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in such violence in Nigeria’s Middle Belt this year, eclipsing the 200 or so killed by Boko Haram.
With reporting from AFP