|Niger expels head of French nuclear company
NIAMEY, July 26 (AFP) Jul 26, 2007
The head of French nuclear group Areva in Niger has been ordered to leave the uranium-rich west African state, the company said Thursday, denying media reports that he backed Tuareg rebels.
Dominique Pin was expelled after a decision Wednesday by Interior Minister Albade Abouba, according to the daily Republicain, which reported government concerns over Areva's alleged links to the rebels. There was no confirmation from the government.
From its headquarters in Paris, Areva condemned the expulsion which comes just a week after Pin strongly denied rumours that Areva was financing the rebels of the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ).
"Nothing that Dominique Pin has done justifies such action," a company official told AFP.
"The accusations made out against Areva are without any foundation," he said, stressing that the decision came at a time of "mutual misunderstanding."
Areva, which has been operating mines in Niger for 40 years and is the country's biggest private employer, stressed that despite the expulsion it intends to "remain an important player in the social and economic development of Niger", the world's third-largest uranium producer.
Seen as a key partner for Niger previously, Areva has become the target of heavy criticism despite investing one billion euros (1.4 billion dollars) in its Imouraren exploration site, its biggest uranium project in the country.
Some national media have accused Areva of supporting a Tuareg rebellion since February in the uranium-producing north of the country.
A recent television debate turned into a platform for verbal attacks against Areva, French media -- Radio France Internationale has been taken off the FM band -- and Libya. The following day several thousand people demonstrated against the French company and Libya.
Pin is currently abroad. The expulsion order was received by the company's Niamey office.
Local consumer and student groups as well as rights organisations in Niger accused "foreign interest groups like Areva" of supporting the MNJ but the Tuareg group has consistently denied receiving external support.
Pin said in a statement last week that such accusations "harm the reputation of Areva and deeply hurt its staff" and insisted his firm also needed "security and stability" to continue its operations in Niger.
In April, MNJ rebels attacked Areva's Imoumaren site, which is south of the main uranium-producing centre of Arlit.
The MNJ, which emerged in February, says peace will not return to the region without better integration of Tuaregs into the army and the mining sector.