At the end of a two-month standoff with the Nigerien military regime, President Emmanuel Macron ended up announcing on Sunday the return to Paris of the ambassador in Niamey and the withdrawal of French troops from Niger “by the end of the year”.
This withdrawal of 1,500 French soldiers based in Niger, which before the July 26 coup was one of Paris’s last allies in the Sahel, comes after those from Mali and Burkina Faso, where France has already been pushed towards exit by hostile juntas.
“France has decided to bring back its ambassador. In the coming hours our ambassador with several diplomats will return to France,” Mr. Macron said during a television interview on Sunday evening.
After refusing for several weeks to recall Sylvain Itté, his chief diplomat in Niger, whose departure the regime demanded, Mr. Macron ended up putting an end to an untenable situation.
The ambassador and his team were in the French embassy, no longer benefiting from diplomatic immunity and liable to expulsion if they left. They also saw their food and water supplies running out.
The military in power in Niamey celebrated “a new step towards the sovereignty of Niger” on Sunday evening.
“The French troops as well as the French ambassador will leave Nigerien soil by the end of the year. It is a historic moment which testifies to the determination and will of the Nigerien people,” they indicated in a press release read on national television.
“Any person, any institution or structure whose presence threatens the interests and projections of our country will have to leave the land of our ancestors whether they like it or not,” the text continues.
France refused to give in to the “injunctions” of the military in power. She continues, as President Macron repeated on Sunday evening, to consider the overthrown president Mohamed Bazoum, detained since the end of July with his wife and son at the presidential residence, as “the only legitimate authority” in the country.
But Paris, which was counting on an intervention by ECOWAS (community of West African States) to restore Mr. Bazoum and constitutional order, had few options left to maintain itself in Niger.
“We are ending our military cooperation with the de facto authorities of Niger, because they no longer want to fight against terrorism,” the French president also announced.
– Execrable relationships –
Since taking power, the military led by General Abdourahamane Tiani have denounced the defense cooperation agreements between Paris and Niamey. They claim that the French force is present “illegally” in Niger.
Demonstrations regularly take place in the capital to demand their departure. For the moment, they remain camped in their bases.
“This is the end of this cooperation”, President Macron finally noted, assuring that the troops would return “in an orderly manner in the weeks and months to come”, and that the return would be effective “by the end of the year”.
“We will consult with the putschists because we want it to be done peacefully,” however, clarified the French president.
After ten years of anti-terrorist military operation in the Sahel, France now only has a presence in Chad (1,000 soldiers) in this region.
However, Operation “Barkhane was a success,” assured Mr. Macron, repeating that Paris had intervened at the request of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. “Without it, most of these countries would have already been taken by territorial caliphates and jihadists,” insisted the president, in a speech that is still very virulent with regard to the juntas in the Sahel.
“We are not here to be hostages of the putschists,” he said. “The putschists are the friends of disorder,” said Mr. Macron, stressing that jihadist attacks were causing “dozens of deaths every day in Mali” and that they had resumed with a vengeance in Niger.
“I am very worried about this region,” continued Mr. Macron. “France, sometimes alone, has taken all its responsibilities and I am proud of our military. But we are not responsible for the political life of these countries and we draw all the consequences.”
New illustration of the execrable relations between Paris and Niamey, Niger banned its airspace to French planes on Sunday.
09/24/2023 23:41:15 – Paris (AFP) – © 2023 AFP
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