President Emmanuel Macron announced on Sunday that France would withdraw its ambassador from Niger and the French military contingent in the coming months. This move was welcomed by the Nigerien military leadership as a “step towards sovereignty”.
Macron’s announcement comes two months after a coup in the West African country that toppled the pro-Paris president.
“France has decided to withdraw its ambassador. In the next few hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France,” Macron said in an interview on French television, without giving details of how this would be organized.
Macron added that military cooperation had “ended” and French troops would leave in “the coming months and weeks” with a full withdrawal “by the end of the year.”
Nigerian military leaders responded immediately in a statement read on national television:
“This Sunday we celebrate a new step towards Niger’s sovereignty,” said the statement from the military rulers who seized power on July 26 by overthrowing President Mohamed Bazoum.
“This is a historic moment that underlines the resolve and will of the Nigerian people,” the Nigerian statement continued.
– Ban on French aircraft –
The Agency for Aviation Safety in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA) said on its website earlier on Sunday that the military power had banned “French aircraft” from flying over the country’s airspace.
It was not clear whether this would affect the ambassador’s trip.
In his comments, Macron said: “We will consult with the coup plotters in the coming weeks and months because we want this to happen peacefully,” he added.
France has around 1,500 soldiers in Niger as part of an anti-jihadist operation in the Sahel. Macron said post-coup authorities “no longer want to fight against terrorism.”
Niger’s military leaders had told French Ambassador Sylvain Itte to leave the country after they overthrew Bazoum in July.
But a 48-hour ultimatum issued in August calling for him to withdraw remained in place because the French government refused to comply or recognize the military regime as legitimate.
Earlier this month, Macron said the ambassador and his staff were “literally held hostage” in the mission and ate military rations without any food deliveries.
In the interview on Sunday, Macron reiterated France’s position that Bazoum was being held “hostage” and remained the “sole legitimate authority” in the country.
“He was targeted in this coup because he made bold reforms and there was a largely ethnic reckoning and a lot of political cowardice,” he argued.
– “Very concerned about the region” –
The coup against Bazoum was the third such coup in the region in many years, following similar actions in Mali and Burkina Faso in 2021 and 2022, which also forced the withdrawal of French troops.
But the Niger coup is particularly painful for Macron because he has sought to make Niamey a special ally and, after the Mali coup, a center for France’s presence in the region. The US also has over 1,000 soldiers in the country.
Macron speaks regularly on the phone with Bazoum, who remains under house arrest in the presidential residence.
The French president has repeatedly spoken of a historic shift in France’s post-colonial imprint in Africa, but analysts say Paris is losing influence across the continent, particularly given the growing Chinese, Turkish and Russian presence.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened military action to restore Bazoum, but so far its threats, strongly supported by France, have not been carried out.
“We are not here to be hostages of the coup plotters,” Macron said. “The coup plotters are the allies of disorder,” he added.
Macron said that jihadist attacks following the coup in Mali “caused dozens of deaths every day” and that such attacks had now resumed in Niger.
“I am very concerned about this region,” he said.
“France, sometimes alone, has taken on all its responsibilities and I am proud of our military. But we are not responsible for the political life of these countries and draw all the consequences from it.”
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