- With tensions rising between Niger and Burkina Faso as they accuse each other's security forces of crossing the border to rob and harass villagers, local officials in the area met recently to renew a call for a buffer zone.
"The situation is very difficult as the exact location of the border has not been agreed on," the governor of the Sahel Region of Burkina Faso, Bila Dipama, told the UN media 'IRIN' on Thursday, a week after the meeting in Burkina Faso's eastern town of Fada.
"Therefore we think that we must peacefully manage a buffer zone until a definitive solution can be found," he said.
The buffer zone should run between the Tillaberi Region in Niger and the Eastern and Sahel regions of Burkina Faso and should be controlled jointly by the two countries' security forces. The officials also agreed to call on the International Court of Justice in the Hague to arbitrate the border dispute.
The dispute has simmered quietly for years with government officials having held talks on border issues since 2000. But only in recent weeks had local officials started making accusations against each other
"Burkina Faso's authorities are harassing our populations," the prefect of the town of Saye in Niger, Djibo Mayaki Seydou, said during the meeting in Fada which was broadcast on Burkina Faso national radio. "This is so serious that it threatens good relations between the two countries."
For Burkina Faso, the prefect of the border town of Botou, Sie Frederique Sib, accused plain clothes Nigerien forces of crossing the border and attacking local pastorialists, demanding money or taking their animals. "Our authorities are not close to the zone so the population is left to face the attackers alone," he said at the meeting.
The prefect for the border town of Kantchari in Burkina Faso, Patrice Beogo, added that Nigeriens come across the border to cut down tree. "They claim that it is their territory but they are destroying our forests," he said.
Tensions at the meeting were eventually diffused, said Mr Dipama. "Since that day local officials have started talking to one another again."
Previous meetings over border issues had been between government ministers and other senior officials; this one featured mayors and prefects in the border area as well as local officials from two countries' departments of customs and forestry and wildlife services.
"Many on both sides of the border were born in the region and so they know the problem very well," Mr Dipama said. "It is also going to be easier for them to get support of the population to solve the problems."
The officials agreed to inform each other in advance of starting any infrastructural projects and to increase cooperation to facilitate free movement as well as to control rising banditry. All the participants said they were concerned about the increased number of weapons circulating in the area, which they believed was a result of the rebellion ending in northern Niger.
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