Niger said on Tuesday that it would deport the Mahamid Arabs, who settled in the southeastern region of Diffa in the 1980s as civil conflict raged in Chad, as their presence was raising tensions with indigenous tribes.

Hamad Ahmed, an Arab leader in Niger, said in a statement read to the media: "This decision by the government is extremely dangerous; it will fuel the hatred between ethnic communities in Diffa and will lead to widespread conflict whose wounds will take time to heal."

Niger's government accused the Arab population of possessing illegal firearms and said that they were a serious threat to the security of local communities.

The government said that the repatriation would be carried out with respect for human rights.

Ahmed said the expulsion would violate international treaties, including the charter of the 53-nation African Union. He appealed to Mamadou Tandja, Niger's president, to reverse the decision.

Ahmed said: "To return these Arabs and their livestock is physically impossible. They will only move under force, and all violence will produce more violence."