More than 18,000 people living mainly on islands in the Niger River in the Tillabéri region (western Niger) have started to return to their homes after fleeing recent violence partly linked to clashes between communities, learned on Monday AFP from official sources.
"There are some who already left on their own two days ago and a voluntary return operation ' was launched ' this morning (Monday) by the government," said Moussa Douma, mayor of Ayorou, town located 200 km from Niamey where thousands of women and children had found refuge.
As a prelude to these returns, "armed forces have been deployed" in the islands "to guarantee security", he assured.
A total of 18,775 displaced people, of whom 13,400 were in Ayorou and 5,375 in Dessa, are affected by this return, according to official figures.
To return, they borrow their motor canoes, on board which they had fled the atrocities, sometimes coupled with attacks by suspected jihadists. The government and its partners have provided them with fuel, food and shelter, according to Moussa Douma.
"There was a crisis and this situation caused the departure of several people from their localities for safer places", recalled on public television on Sunday the Nigerien Minister of the Interior, Hamadou Adamou Souley, who had returned to Ayorou. He said that now "calm and peace are back".
It was the government's first public reaction after these clashes, the toll of which remains unknown. A local elected official reported, "at least ten dead".
According to local sources, "violent clashes" had opposed in late April and early May sedentary Djerma and nomadic Fulani herders in villages and hamlets bordering the Niger River, causing "several deaths, injuries" and "many displaced".
The violence was mainly recorded in areas administered by the communes of Dessa, Kandadji and Ayorou, said these sources.
A local journalist explained that these clashes followed "several assassinations" of villagers by suspected jihadists who also steal cattle and "demand taxes".
The Tillabéri region is located in the so-called "three borders" zone between Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali. Several ethnic groups - Djerma, Fulani, Tuareg and Hausa - live there.
Niger has launched several large-scale operations there against the jihadists, with the recent support of French soldiers present in the region.