Veteran UN envoy goes missing in Niger

Niger's government says that a UN special envoy on illicit arms, Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler, has gone missing near Niamey. Fowler was to attend celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Niger's independence from France.


AFP - Niger's government said Monday the UN special envoy on illicit arms, veteran Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler, had gone missing west of Niamey.

Fowler disappeared in the Karma area, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the capital, Minister of Communication Mohamed Ben Omar told AFP.

Fowler arrived Thurday in Niamey after he sought an official invitation to celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Niger gaining autonomy from France, in the western town of Tillaberi, Ben Omar said.

He was not in landlocked Niger -- one of the world's poorest countries, and with a Tuareg rebellion in its northern region -- on official business, the minister added.

"Without making a prior request for authorisation from the authorities," Fowler left the capital Saturday with two other people, including a driver, apparently heading to Samira, site of a gold mine that is part-Canadian owned.

Officials were told about his disapperance in the pre-dawn hours of Monday, when his vehicle was found in the vicinity of Karma town, Ben Omar said.

"Inside were found three telephones, a camera and a jacket," he said, adding that the vehicle had been followed out of Niamey by an unidentified vehicle registered in Togo.

"These disappearances surprise us," Ben Omar said, affirming that security forces have been deployed in the area to try to find Fowler, but regretting that he had not informed the authorities or the UN office in Niger of his trip.

Fowler -- who was Canada's ambassador to the United Nations in 1995-2000 -- has twice travelled to Niger on business.

Niger's foreign ministry said in a statement it was "very concerned" about Fowler's disappearance Sunday "at about 6:00 pm (1700 GMT)."

"Since then and in spite of a search by defence and security forces in cooperation with the UN system the ministry has been without news from Mr Fowler and his aides," the statement said, adding that he appeared to have been at Samira where a Canadian company is mining gold.

"For the moment the ministry does not know why he disappeared and the defence and security forces are actively searching for him."

The frontier region of Tillaberi is well away from the scene of fighting between Niger's armed forces and Tuareg rebels.

In New York, UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said three persons who were traveling aboard a vehicle of the United Nations Development Programme in southwestern Niger Monday had been reported missing.

She told AFP that the vehicle was located 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of Niamey, when contact with the three occupants was lost.

Montas could give no details on the identity or the nationality of the three individuals.


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