March 5, 2010 / 3:20 PM / in 9 years

Niger junta releases five ex-ministers: sources

Colonel Goukoye Abdul Karimou reads a statement signed by Colonel Salou Djibo in Niamey in this videograb dated February 18, 2010 after President Mamadou Tandja was ousted in a military coup. REUTERS/Reuters TV

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Niger’s military rulers released five of six former ministers detained in last month’s coup, but will keep them under watch pending a wide-ranging corruption probe, sources close to the junta said on Friday.

The release of the ministers late on Thursday comes days after the junta, which toppled former president Mamadou Tandja in a spectacular assault in the capital February 18, named a transitional government meant to guide the uranium exporting country to elections.

“It is true that they are back with their families, but that doesn’t mean that they are beyond reproach,” said one of the sources on condition of anonymity. “There is an investigation under way and any former minister or civil servant accused of corruption, for example, will be pursued.”

The junta has said it plans to hand over power to civilians, but has not given a timeframe. It has also stressed it plans to hold members of Tandja’s regime accountable for graft — an effort welcomed by Nigeriens but that could prove troubling to the international community by delaying elections.

Former prime minister Ali Badjo Gamatie was among the five released, according to the sources. The former minister of the interior Albade Abouba is still being held, as is Tandja.

The coup, the fourth since independence from France in 1960, was welcomed by Nigeriens tired of months of political bickering in a nation that is one of the world’s poorest but attracts billions of dollars of investment in its oil and uranium.

Prior to his ouster, Tandja drew widespread criticism for orchestrating a constitutional rejig last year that broadened his powers and extended his term in office beyond the end of his mandate, which expired in December.

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