UN Diplomats Missing in Niger

From the UN News Centre:

A United Nations envoy dealing with Niger, Canadian Robert Fowler, has gone missing while driving near the West African country’s capital Niamey, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today. “We are doing all our best efforts about his whereabouts,” he told reporters when asked about it at a news conference. “We are now mobilizing all necessary information networks on this.” Earlier a spokesman said the UN had no indication Mr. Fowler, whose car was found on Sunday evening without its three passengers, had been taken hostage. Spokesman Farhan Haq added that the Niger authorities were looking into the matter. “We appreciate their efforts and are working with them,” he said.

The BBC reports that (at least some) Tuareg rebels have claimed that they have in fact abducted Mr. Fowler, who is also a former Canadian ambassador to the UN. The disappearance occurred far from the rebels’ usual base of operations, though, and UN and Niger officials do not even agree whether Mr. Fowler was in the country in his official capacity or on private business.

We’ll keep you updated.

(For more on the Tuareg rebels, check out yesterday’s interesting NYT article by Lydia Polgreen. And you can check out their “slick Web site” here.)

UPDATE: It appears that Fowler — “no stranger to conflict zones” — was kidnapped when returning from a major Nigerien gold mine that is largely owned by a Canadian corporation. I’ve heard speculation from the ground that, as the mine is widely believed to rely on a shady system of bribing both government officials and rebels, it was no accident that Canadians were targeted. Another possible explanation is that the kidnapping was meant to embarrass Niger’s regime just days before national holiday celebrations.