Following a coup, France will reportedly revoke its ambassador and halt all military cooperation with Niger, according to President Emmanuel Macron.
“France has decided to withdraw its ambassador. In the next hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France”, said Macron. Military cooperation was “over,” he continued, and French forces would depart in “the months to come.”
The military coup that took over Niger in July applauded the decision. The junta declared in a statement that was cited by the AFP news agency that “this Sunday we celebrate a new step towards the sovereignty of Niger.”
There are around 1,500 French soldiers fighting against Islamist extremists in the landlocked nation of West Africa. More than a thousand US soldiers are also stationed in Niger, but they have not been requested to leave.
Following months of hostility and protests against the French presence in its former colony, including frequent rallies in the capital Niamey, Paris finally made a decision.
The action dealt a severe hit to Paris’ clout in the Sahel area as well as France’s efforts against militants there. Speaking to France’s TF1 and France 2 television stations, Macron asserted, though, that France will “not be held hostage by the putschists.”
“He was targeted by this coup d’etat because he was carrying out courageous reforms and because there was a largely ethnic settling of scores and a lot of political cowardice,” he said.
Macron claimed to have notified deposed Niger President Mohamed Bazoum of his decision and that he continued to view Bazoum, who is being detained by the coup leaders, as the “sole legitimate authority” of the nation. He called the overthrown president a “hostage”.
Following Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, and Chad, Niger is another former French colony in West and Central Africa where the military has lately taken power. In August, there was a coup in Gabon.
In recent years, there has been a rise in anti-French sentiment in the area, with many local politicians accusing Paris of implementing neocolonialist tactics, which France vigorously refutes.
Concerns have also been raised in the West over Russia’s Wagner mercenary group’s expanding influence in the Sahel. It is accused of violating human rights and has supported certain recent military regimes.
In order to restore Bazoum, the regional Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), with France’s backing, has threatened military action in Niger. But it has not yet taken any action.
After toppling Bazoum on July 26, Niger’s military commanders informed the French ambassador Sylvain Itte that he must leave the nation. Although he was given a 48-hour deadline to quit in August, the French government refused to honour it or recognised the military dictatorship as legal, thus he remained in position.
Hours after the leaders of the coup in Niger forbade “French aircraft” from flying over the nation, Macron made his announcement.
Niger’s airspace was described as being “open to all national and international commercial flights except for French aircraft or aircraft chartered by France including those of the airline Air France” by the regional air safety agency ASECNA.
According to the notice, “all military, operational, and other special flights” would be prohibited from using the airspace unless they had prior authorization.
Air France just said to AFP that aircraft was “not flying over Niger airspace”.