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Niger Military Regime Orders Expulsion Of French Envoy

Supporters of Niger’s National Council of Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP) hold a placard as they protest outside the Niger and French airbase in Niamey on August 30, 2023 to demand the departure of the French army from Niger. (Photo by – / AFP)

According to a letter seen by AFP on Thursday, Niger’s new military rulers have stripped France’s ambassador of diplomatic protection and ordered police to deport him, escalating tensions with the country’s longstanding ally.

The envoy “no longer enjoys the privileges and immunities attached to his status as member of diplomatic personnel in the French embassy,” according to a letter sent to the French foreign ministry on Tuesday.

“(His) diplomatic cards and visas and those of the members of his family have been cancelled. The police have been instructed to proceed to his expulsion,” it said.

The move follows a coup in the troubled Sahel state on July 26 that toppled a close French ally, President Mohamed Bazoum.

Relations with France spiralled downwards after Paris stood by Bazoum and refused to recognise Niger’s new rulers.

Showdown

On Friday, the authorities gave French envoy Sylvain Itte 48 hours to leave the country.

France refused the demand, saying that the government had no legal right to make such an order.

On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron singled out Itte for praise after he remained at his post.

French military spokesman Colonel Pierre Gaudilliere on Thursday warned that “the French military forces are ready to respond to any upturn in tension that could harm French diplomatic and military premises in Niger”.

“Measures have been taken to protect these premises,” he said.

France has around 1,500 troops in Niger, many of them stationed at an airbase near the capital, that are deployed to help fight a bloody jihadist insurgency.

On August 3, Niger’s new rulers denounced military agreements with France, a move that the government in Paris has also ignored on the grounds of legitimacy.

An organisation set up after the coup named the Patriotic Front for Niger Sovereignty (FPS) has led public demands for the coup leaders to take a hard line on France.

It has lashed Itte as being a “French citizen in an irregular situation” on Niger’s soil.

It is also calling for a “massive” march next Saturday on the French base, followed by a sit-in until the troops leave.

Coup alarm

Niger, a landlocked former French colony in the heart of the Sahel, consistently ranks towards the bottom of the UN’s prosperity index, the Human Development Index.

It is also fighting two jihadist insurgencies: a spillover from a long-running battle in neighboring Nigeria in southern Niger, and an offensive in the southwest of the country by militants crossing from Mali and Burkina Faso.

Bazoum took office in 2021 following democratic elections, a milestone moment in a country that had not experienced a peaceful turnover of power since its independence from France in 1960.

He suffered two attempted coups before finally being toppled by members of his own guard.

His demise set off alarm bells across West Africa, where three other countries — Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso — have been taken over by the military since 2020.

If diplomatic efforts to end the conflict fail, the regional body ECOWAS has warned that it will act militarily to restore civilian government.

Swift to assist their military compatriots in Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso, they have said that any such action would be a “declaration of war” against them.

According to a government statement issued in Ouagadougou on Thursday, Burkina Faso has approved a draft law authorizing the deployment of troops to Niger.

“What affects security in Niger fundamentally affects security in Burkina Faso,” Burkinabe Defence Minister Kassoum Coulibaly said.

However, efforts for a peaceful solution are continuing.

Niger’s neighbour to the north, Algeria, on Tuesday proposed a six-month transition for returning to civilian rule. The military rulers have so far spoken of a three-year handback period.

Written by PH

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