SAM MEDNICK, Associated Press
NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — Niger’s military junta says it is severing military agreements with France, its former colonial ruler, firing some of the previous government’s key ambassadors and warning citizens of the West African nation to watch for foreign armies and spies.
The announcement on state television late Thursday deepens the post-coup isolation for what had been the United States’ and allies’ last major security partner in the Sahel, the vast region south of the Sahara Desert that various Islamic extremist groups have turned into the global center of terrorism.
With two days remaining before a deadline set by the West African regional bloc to release and reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum or face possible force, Bazoum in a plea published in a Washington Post opinion piece said, “I write this as a hostage.”
Niger’s mutinous soldiers face a Sunday deadline set by the regional bloc known as ECOWAS, whose envoys arrived at the airport in the capital, Niamey, on Thursday for talks.
But hours later, the junta’s announcement brought skepticism about any deal. It said it was terminating the military agreements and protocols signed with France and announced the end of functions for Niger’s ambassadors to France, the United States, Togo and neighboring Nigeria, which is leading ECOWAS efforts on dialogue.
Bazoum wrote that Niger’s security situation had been improving before the coup, in contrast to neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso that are led by military juntas, but said that’s now at risk because Niger would lose aid from foreign partners and extremist groups would take advantage of the country’s instability.
“In our hour of need, I call on the U.S. government and the entire international community to help us restore our constitutional order,” he wrote.
The U.S. has 1,100 military personnel in Niger and is indicates it’s reluctant to leave.