Dozens of land mines accidentally exploded Sunday in Niger during a ceremony in which a group of former rebels were handing over arms, killing one person and wounding about 40 including the regional governor, the government said.
Government spokesman Mohamed Ben Omar said four soldiers were seriously injured.
The accident occurred in Goure, east of the capital, Niamey. Speaking over state radio and television, Omar said a government official who had worked as an intermediary with the rebels stepped on one mine which set off dozens of others, spreading shrapnel through an assembled crowd. He identified the intermediary as Moussa Bidal.
Omar said the wounded included the governor of Zinder province, Yahaya Yandaka.
"We're on the real path toward peace and people should not be discouraged by this," Omar said.
The rebel Niger Movement for Justice began its campaign against the government last year saying the government had reneged on promises of greater rights for the Tuareg minority, a key element of a 1995 peace accord that ended a previous Tuareg rebellion. Clashes between government forces and rebels occur sporadically in the uranium-rich north despite multiple attempts at cease-fires.
It was unclear how many former rebels were surrendering arms. The rebel group has denied a report on state television that said rebels were ready to end their yearlong insurgency, AP reported.