By Abdoulaye Massalatchi
NIAMEY, March 11 (Reuters) - A Niger rebel faction has split from the main Tuareg-led Niger Justice Movement (MNJ) armed insurgency, saying it wants negotiations to restore peace, the breakaway group said on its website.
Rebel groups and bandits are rife in the uranium-rich desert state and have been blamed by its mines minister for discouraging investment in Niger, where international firms such as Areva CEPFi.PA and Cameco (CCO.TO) have operations.
The breakaway "Niger Patriotic Front (FPN) is an armed struggle organisation that wants to return to peace in Niger and favours dialogue," the group said in on its web page www.agadez-niger.com.
The FPN said disagreements about the MNJ’s management of the movement had provoked the split.
This is the second schism in the MNJ since it began its armed campaign for greater autonomy from Niamey for the north of the country, which it says has not benefited from Niger’s resource income, particularly from the uranium dug in the north.
At least 300 rebels and 80 government soldiers have been killed since the fighting began in early 2007.
Niger has refused to talk to the rebel groups, which it says are smugglers and bandits, unlike neighbouring Mali which has negotiated with the Tuareg dissidents active in its territory.
Last month, almost 600 rebels in northern Mali laid down their weapons in a sign military pressure and Algerian mediation may be helping to defuse the rebellion in northern Mali.
A security source in Niger said on Monday that the MNJ may be responsible for raids on cattle-rearing camps last Friday that killed 10 people.
Al Qaeda’s North African wing has added to insecurity in the area. The group has said it is holding four European tourists seized in late January on the Niger-Mali border, as well as two Canadian diplomats seized in southern Niger in December. (Writing by Joseph Penney; Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Jon Boyle)