Northern Chad caught between gold rush and armed groups

AFP

3 min read
The Emi Koussi volcano that lies at the south end of the Tibesti Mountains in the central Sahara of northern Chad, obtained on December 10, 2002.
NASA / AFPThe Emi Koussi volcano that lies at the south end of the Tibesti Mountains in the central Sahara of northern Chad, obtained on December 10, 2002.

Chad's Tibesti Mountains is a rugged area that often fosters ethnic friction and armed conflict

Chad's Tibesti Mountains, where around 100 people were recently killed in fighting between gold miners, is a lawless frontier region in the heart of the Sahara, where even water is part of a lucrative trade.

The rugged area, lying in Chad's far north near the Libyan border, is a source of ethnic friction and a bolthole for armed groups.

It often fosters revolts that have marked the country's history since independence from France in 1960.

"The Tibesti region is a bit like the Far West, a lawless zone – there's a gold rush there and it's like in the films, and that leads to the use of military weapons," said Chad’s Communications Minister Abderaman Koulamallah.

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Violence broke out among miners on May 23 in the Kouri Bougoudi district near the Libyan border, prompting authorities to suspend all mining in the area.

It was triggered by a "mundane dispute between two people which degenerated,” Defense Minister General Daoud Yaya Brahim said.

"Around 100" people were killed and at least 40 were wounded, he said, adding that the clashes pitched Mauritanians against Libyans.

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The discovery of gold in the Tibesti 10 years ago sparked a rush of miners from across Chad and neighboring countries.

Many young Chadians from the country's deeply impoverished center headed there, often laboring in dangerous illegal mines.

Kouri Bougoudi, located more than 600 miles from the Chadian capital N'Djamena, is an exceptionally bleak place.

It lies in hilly, windswept desert and the diggers live in makeshift tents.

They depend on water trucked in by Libyan traders, as the nearest water hole is 120 miles away, said Koulamallah. 

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