ECOWAS delegation leaves Niger without meeting Junta leader

A delegation from West Africa was unsuccessful in their efforts to reinstate Niger’s elected government to power as the junta has taken steps to sever military cooperation with France, their former colonial ruler.

The team from the ECOWAS regional bloc had initially arrived in the capital, Niamey, on Thursday with plans to stay overnight and hold discussions with coup leader Abdourahamane Tiani and detained President Mohamed Bazoum.

However, as confirmed by a delegation member on Friday, they neither stayed the night nor had the intended meetings.

Nigeria, a prominent regional player, currently holds the rotating presidency of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The organization has imposed sanctions and, as of Sunday, issued a one-week ultimatum to the coup leaders, urging them to reinstate Bazoum to his position. Failure to comply could potentially lead to armed intervention.

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu expressed the bloc’s commitment to diplomatically resolve the crisis; nevertheless, ECOWAS stated that military intervention might be considered as a final option.

Military leaders from the region are currently gathered in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, to deliberate on the potential for such an intervention.

The junta in Niger issued a warning that it would respond with equal force if faced with force.

“Any aggression or attempted aggression against the State of Niger will see an immediate and unannounced response from the Niger Defence and Security Forces on one of (the bloc’s) members,” conveyed one of the coup leaders in a statement broadcasted on national television.

This statement comes with “the exclusion of temporarily suspended friendly nations,” referring to countries like Burkina Faso and Mali, neighboring nations that have experienced military coups in the recent past.

The juntas in those countries have cautioned that any military intervention in Niger would be considered equivalent to a “declaration of war.”

Anti-French sentiment

Throughout Niger on Thursday, large crowds gathered to support the leaders of the coup on the occasion of the country’s 1960 independence anniversary. Among the demonstrators were individuals waving oversized Russian flags and chanting slogans critical of France.

Hostile feelings toward France are increasing in the region, and there’s a noticeable uptick in Russian involvement, frequently facilitated by entities like the Wagner mercenary group.

Bazoum cautioned that neighboring countries have been increasingly welcoming “criminal Russian mercenaries like the Wagner Group,” which has led to a detriment to their citizens’ rights and integrity.

“The entire Sahel region,” he said, “could fall to Russian influence via the Wagner Group, whose brutal terrorism has been on full display in Ukraine”.

As an indication of the junta’s discontent with Paris, it declared on Thursday the termination of military agreements between Niamey and France. This action was attributed to France’s perceived “careless attitude and its reaction to the situation,” as stated by the junta.

The junta is also summoning its ambassadors back from Paris, along with representatives from three other capitals.

Niger has played a significant role in Western efforts to counter the militant insurgency that has afflicted the Sahel region since 2012. Both France and the United States have stationed approximately 1,500 and 1,000 troops in the country, respectively, as part of these efforts.

A total of 1,079 individuals have been evacuated from the country by France, with a majority of them being its own citizens.

The State Department has confirmed that the United States has arranged for a plane to evacuate non-essential personnel and American citizens who wish to depart from the country.

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