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I have just read all the way through this thread with increasing fascination.
The Canadian Consul in Niger (who has returned since the February coup) seems very hopeful regarding the future of security in Niger - although as is often the case, this may simply mean security around Niamey and south, rather than the border areas of the North.
I was interested when looking at the map re: kidnappings in the Sahara since 2003, to note that there had been none in the desert region north of Agadez to the Libyan border - through the Tenere and up to Bilma.
Is this accurate? I had thought this area to be not only volatile regarding kidnapping, but also heavily mined.
Does anyone have any further information?
I was also intrigued to read about the profile of those kidnapped. Independent travellers do seem to be low down the scale in favour of aid workers - although the music festival kidnapping does not fit that scenario.
It seems that in many ways it is as it always was - if you travel with locals, in a low key fashion, your chances of getting through are as good as they ever were.
Problem of course is that the paperwork simply won't allow it - does anyone know if tourists have been crossing the Nigerienne/Libyan border at all from either side?
... Is this accurate? I had thought this area to be not only volatile regarding kidnapping, but also heavily mined.
Hi Paula, if you mean a direct line from Agadez or Arlit to Tumu then this is a remote region with no settlements after the Aïr or tourists at all since the most recent Aïr Tuareg rebellions. Formerly Aïr borders certainly had annual raids/robberies of tourist groups and that has not stopped, just transfered to others/locals lately. I'm not sure you Canadian consul is so well informed to say what he did, unless he was referring to post coup stability as you suggest.
Though you can be one one day and the other on the next, what bandits want and what AQIM do are different.
I would not describe this region as 'heavily mined', just 'mined' here and there. An unlucky tourist was killed here (iirc) but I was recently in contact with an Agadez agency who has a good idea where the safe passages were through the Djado plateau (for camelling).
Don't forget the Italians were grabbed in August 2006 south of Bilma [2 on map] and in 2002 we met an Austrian couple in Djanet who must have been set up to get hijacked, beaten up, shot at and robbed just after the Niger border on the balise route to Chirfa. These are of course Tubu bandit ops, rather than AQIM.
Independent travellers do seem to be low down the scale...
I would not say that at all. Look at the 32 who were grabbed in 2002. I doubt very much it's how you travel/what you do - it's where you're from and then being high profile (conspicuous) or in the wrong places at the wrong time.
if you travel with locals, in a low key fashion, your chances...
Again, I don't think the latest 78-year old French guy would see it that way. Any lower profile and he'd be a gerbil.
(I'm a bit perplexed to read his driver has been extradited to Niger for involvement with the hit. I recall reading this was a guide with whom MG has travelled with for many years, but I may have got that wrong)
...crossing the Nigerienne/Libyan border...
That one's been closed to tourists for years, though like all these closed borders, with good contacts on the Libyan side it can be done.
So, I would not rely too heavily on the gaps in that map to plan future travels. They hit where westerners are most likely to be and, just like with Somali pirates, those channels are fairly predictable. Local knowledge + context is what counts.
The kidnapping Chris mentioned accured near Agadem, south of Bilma: a group of about 10 or 11 mostly italian 4x4 had been hold for a night and all except 2 people had been released. The remaining 2 were released after several weeks.
Around 2001-2003 several brutal robberiens took place north of Chirfa ( I would need to dig deep in my files to find the detailed records). Libya closed the passage of tourists at Al Gatrun several years ago due to increasing insecurity in that area.
I would not describe this region as 'heavily mined', just 'mined' here and there. An unlucky tourist was killed here (iirc) but I was recently in contact with an Agadez agency who has a good idea where the safe passages were through the Djado plateau (for camelling)
I re-read this and had a couple of thoughts.
In earlier posts, it was suggested/discussed that AQIM (as opposed to Tubu bandits) appeared to be more active, or based, in Mali, rather than Niger. this was certainly my experience in 2007, despite the fact that I was arrested in Niger.
Whilst I realise any speculation is just that, it seemed to tally with current events in Niger. I am intrigued that anyone is actually conducting camelling in the area - I had thought it to still be a no-go zone. Can you elaborate?
When I travelled last time, it was widely conceded that the Libyan border was always open with good contacts, as you said. unfortunately, mine are no longer in their diplomatic posts, so if anyone has good recommendations in the area of travel operators who deal with independent tourists, I would be extremely grateful.
Please forgive any ignorance on my part for topics that have already been covered and that I have missed, and I do appreciate any and all info and input.
I am intrigued that anyone is actually conducting camelling in the area - I had thought it to still be a no-go zone. Can you elaborate?
In my mind the area Azawad I think it's called - west of Agadez and along Mali border (where the old French guy was taken) is another world from Djado where I'm talking about. Azawad has always been a bit dodgy even before GSPC/AQIM came on the scene, and apart from the gurning festival, was conveniently ignored by the tourism which focussed on Aïr Tenere Djado. I believe you just got into Azawad from Mali when they stopped you? They did you a favour (or saved their own skins), though it would have been no worse than east Mali.
Inner Djado was bad up to about 7 years ago. I recall in 2002 (on a German tour) our drivers had to pay a tribute at a Tubu checkpoint in Orida to let us visit the ruins. Tubu rebels/bandits laid the mines AFAIK against Niger state, but Djado seems OK - they've gone or do something else now.
It's worth recognising that Djado and east Niger is more ethnically 'Chad'. Everyone likes a Tuareg but Tubu prefer to be left alone to do their own thing, a bit like Pathans.
Because of the above background and that fact that Aïr was more accessible, better watered, much nearer and had chummy Tuaregs, no one's camelled in Djado much but this guy - a new agency from Aïr
firstname.lastname@example.org (speaks English)
was up for it so I was prepared to give it a try. Only a few days walk from Enneri Blaka back towards Djado ruins anyway. I'm not sure how it would have turned out - seemed like a long shot bearing in mind cultural diffs, but always wanted to see Blaka and it's a long way from AQIM ops.
Djado plateau is much leaner than the Aïr, but he was confident of mine-free passages (my main concern) and picking up a reliable Tubu crew or camels out there.
I have also used Agence Chiriet and can recommend them highly for car jobs at least. Both could do with the work, but it looks as bad as ever now for them.
I wonder who these new bandits are, as Yves links to above. Disgruntled Tuareg who lost the latest rebellion when Libya withdrew support and see no hope in legit work like tourism? Or AQ types moving in from Mali for a piece of the action? Or a bit of both. Niger govt attitude to the northeast is indifferent if not hostile, and anyway we hear of a famine down south which could also be driving it all.
The Libyan border at Tumu is always open and a lot of trade and soft trafficking goes through, but since a few years has been closed to tourists.
There's even a road from Al Gatrun to Tumu (see Google Earth from 2004).
It's getting into Libya that's the problem - that can be hard enough even officially from the north!
The way the Sahara is now, to finish a trek like yours is not as easy as it was in Michael Asher's day, and even then he took a low route through Chad iirc. As you may know Mikael Strandberg tried from the other end but recently gave up.
Forget Niger and get up into Algeria and go as far as Djanet or even Deb Deb (see other post). Then get stuck into the Libyan situation, though even then I doubt you can enter Egypt anywhere other than the coast which will be rather unsatisfactory.
I realised recently I've also nearly achieved a lateral crossing using cars and bikes - only Waw to Gilf left. But it's taken 10+ years and as many trips...
yep, very familiar with this region. I was held up on the Malian side, the only outright hostility I had from strangers in two years of Saharan walking.
I also am interested in who the 'bandits' are in the region. My Canadian consul corrected me in my assumptions by email today, and said not to even consider Northern Niger, so you were spot on.
The gulf between the black government in Niamey and the nomadic North is so great as to be two distinct countries. I doubt many in the North even know what is happening in the South - and vice versa.
Mines have been a major concern for me also - I spent enough time dodging them in the Western Sahara to have a healthy respect for the problem of shifting sands over time.
I have been in constant contact with both mikael and Christian bodegren, and largely I have not really considered going back in - the issues you describe re: crossing at the coast, not to mention military issues in both Libya and Egypt, are seriously boring when you have three hungry camels in tow, and are unable to suddenly speed up or camp at a border for a week while everything is sorted out. Although I can do it, I would prefer things to be a little more settled.
As Yves would know, I have looked into Algeria seriously on a number of occasions. I feel a little ambiguous about walking through there - many of the areas I would really like to visit are, of course, very dodgy. Algeria alters every day.
I spent a lot of time right in the middle of the zone where most of the kidnappings have occurred. One day after I left Menaka, a car of Oxfam workers were hijacked on the same bit of piste I'd just walked.
It is odd though - the salt caravans are still walking; there is, as you say, plenty of soft trafficking through the Libyan border. Given the investment in the region from Chinese and French sources, I am really interested to see where it winds up, and even more interested to know the reality of the cultural background to these bandits. Are they AQIM? Really? Or just, as you put it, disgruntled leftovers from the rebellion, of whom there are many...
I found your comment that 'everyone likes a Tuareg' pretty interesting. Personally, give me an Arab to walk with any day. Likewise the Tubu. I found them unfailingly hospitable, honest, loyal and good humoured. I would not easily say the same of the Tuareg, particularly in Mali...
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