One month and one day after the kidnapping of Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay in western Africa, I fear the focus, if ever there was one, will begin to slip away from their search.
Because of official Ottawa's silence in this mess, it is really unclear just how sharp or intense have been our efforts to locate the two diplomats. Ambassador Fowler was on a mission assigned by the United-Nations. The surreal silent attitude of the Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon; as well as from anyone in the "Francophonie" of which both Niger and Canada are members, highlights the incapacity, ineptitude and lack of desire of those bodies to deal with this debacle.
I fear that this week's meeting of first Ministers in Ottawa; next week's swearing-in of President Obama down south and his subsequent visit to Canada; the resumption of the House of Commons; and the Federal budget may shift some attention away from these mysterious disappearances. Obviously the ongoing and no doubt mounting anguish of the diplomats' families here at home, and the family of their U.N. driver, Soulmana Mounkaila, in Niger demands continued close monitoring of the situation.
I greet with a healthy dose of skepticism comments yesterday by the President of Niger, Manadou Tandya that: "All investigations undertaken indicate they are being held hostage by terrorists groups." There has been whispered speculation all along that the Government of Niger played a role in the abductions because the United-Nations was meddling with a local issue...the rebellious forces of Niger's Tuareg region. Although it took a month to break his silence, President Tandya has now further fueled the debate by using his government's own buzz word - Terrorists - to describe the Tuareg players.
Still though, "Terrorists" is an interesting choice of word. "The Center For Terrorism Research" in the United-States recently identified the - Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb - as one of it's four biggest threats. The group was formed to fight for an Islamic state in Algeria but has now joined Al-Qaeda's global jihad. In the face of this threat, the Americans have deployed a "counterinsurgency force" in the neighbouring nation of Mali. These observations are worthy: Because Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon has said that Canada asked for Mali's help in efforts to locate the two missing diplomats...And: In March of 2008, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magrhreb kidnapped two Austrians travelling in nearby Tunisia and waited almost a month before making ransom demands. There have been no ransom demands yet for Mr. Fowler and Mr. Guay. After a ransom was paid, A.Q.I.M. released the Austrians about 6 weeks before Ambassador Fowler and Ambassador Guay were abducted in Niger.
The smell of international diplomatic intrigue is palpable and fascinating. The focus needs to remain on the safe return of Canada's emissaries. But once that happens; someone will have a lot of explaining to do!