Niger Crisis, China Plans To Mediate

© Twitter / @General_Salifou

The Chinese government has announced its intention to facilitate a peaceful resolution to the Niger crisis, following a coup in July that triggered sanctions and left the West African country facing threats of armed action.

Media reports said:

“The Chinese government intends to play the role of good offices, a role of moderator, with full respect for the regional countries,” Jiang Feng, Beijing’s ambassador to Niamey, said on Monday during a meeting with military-appointed prime minister Ali Lamine Zeine.

Feng stated that while China “stands with Nigeriens” amid the political situation, it remains committed to its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

The Chinese envoy indicated on Monday that Beijing would continue all projects that were in the interest of the Nigerien authorities.

China continues to be a partner for Niamey in various sectors, including energy, oil, and infrastructure, with both nations collaborating on a significant 2,000-kilometer oil export pipeline project aimed at transporting crude oil from the Agadem fields in southern Niger to the port of Seme in Benin.

Niger’s military government has faced mounting regional and global pressure since the coup on July 26, which removed President Mohamed Bazoum from power and led to his continued detention.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has said that it will pursue all means necessary to restore constitutional order in Niger, including force as a last resort. Last month, the regional bloc said a standby force was ready to be deployed against the coup leaders if ongoing diplomatic efforts proved unsuccessful.

Algeria’s Plan For Transition

Algeria announced a six-month transitional plan to restore constitutional and democratic order in Niger late last month, following the proposal of coup leader General Abdourahmane Tchiani to return the West African country to civilian rule within three years.

Algiers has repeatedly opposed a military intervention in Niger, including allegedly refusing a request from France to fly over its airspace for an armed operation in Niamey.

ECOWAS, which has imposed financial and economic sanctions on Niger, has rejected Tchiani’s transition plan, calling the “prolonged” timeline a “provocation.”

The U.S., France, the Netherlands, and Germany have all halted some foreign assistance projects in Niger following the coup.

Niger Expects Quick French Withdrawal, Says Post-coup PM

Niger expects a quick withdrawal of French troops after relations between France and the West African country deteriorated following a coup in July, military-appointed Prime Minister Ali Lamine Zeine has said.

“The government has already revoked the deals that allow for the French troops to operate on our territory,” Zeine told reporters in the capital Niamey on Monday.

On Monday, the military-appointed prime minister said military action by ECOWAS did not have the backing of all its member states.

“Out of the 15 ECOWAS members, maybe three or four are behind a military intervention,” Zeine said, as quoted by Bloomberg. “All the dispositions are in place, and we are ready to defend ourselves if it comes to it.”

However, he added that the new rulers, whose proposal for a three-year transition was rejected by ECOWAS, “have hopes for reaching an agreement” with the bloc in the “coming days.”

The French forces are staying in Niger “illegally,” he clamed, adding that “talks are underway, which should allow for a swift withdrawal.”

Protesting people are calling for the withdrawal of the French Army from Niamey. The people’s protests have increased since the ouster of President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26.

Earlier last month, Niger’s coup leaders announced the cancellation of military agreements that allowed French forces to fight jihadist insurgents in the Sahel region, giving the former colonial power only a month to pull out its 1,500 troops.

The military authorities have also ordered the “immediate expulsion” of France’s ambassador, Sylvain Itte, after he refused to meet with the military leaders, whom France has repeatedly labeled “illegitimate.”

Paris has disregarded the orders to remove its troops and envoy, and instead expressed support for ECOWAS sanctions and a possible military intervention to restore Bazoum’s regime.

The French military reportedly warned on Friday that it was ready to respond if renewed tensions in Niger targeted its base and diplomatic facilities.

France In Talks With Niger For Possible Withdrawal Of Its Troops

French media reports said:

France is reported to be in talks with Niger’s military about possible withdrawal of French troops from the West African nation in the wake of the fraying of ties following a coup in July.

Confirming the news, former French ambassador to Mali and Senegal Nicolas Normand told that according to his sources, talks were ongoing between the French and Niger militaries to “partially” withdraw troops.

Normand said that his source, who remains anonymous, indicated the discussions should not be seen as recognition of the coup leaders, but a “technical” discussion between the two militaries.

A defense ministry source, who asked not to be named, told AFP that discussions on the withdrawal of “certain military elements” were under way. The source did not give details.

Earlier this Tuesday, sources close to French Defence Minister, Sébastien Lecornu, confirmed to French news agency AFP that exchanges are underway between the Niger and French armies to “facilitate the movement of French military resources” present in Niger.

However no specifics on the nature of these “movements”, their scale or their destination has been given, and there has been no mention of a withdrawal. That source noted that French forces had been “immobilized since anti-terrorist cooperation was suspended” following the military takeover.

The French forces are mostly based at an airfield near the capital, which in recent days has been targeted by thousands of protesters calling on them to leave.

Niger’s military government reportedly cut off electricity and water supply to the French embassy in capital Niamey on Sunday, August 27, after the expiry of the 48-hours it gave the French ambassador, Sylvain Itte, to leave the country.

It has also instructed suppliers to stop providing the water, electricity and food supplies to the French military base, warning that anyone continuing to supply the base with goods and services will be treated as “enemies of the sovereign people.”

Anti-French Protests Continue

Media reports from Niamey said:

A protest was taking place on Tuesday outside the French military base, where organizers said people must not “let their guards down” until all French soldiers leave the country.

“The news of the possible withdrawal from the Niger Republic may not be as satisfying to the organizers of these rallies and protests against France,” said a journalist.

“They have consistently insisted that every single French soldier must leave Niger,” he said, saying organizers were even putting together concerts at the base to keep the momentum going.

Thousands gathered outside this base on Sunday, demanding that its ambassador and troops leave the country, waving the national flag of Niger, reportedly alongside those of the BRICS countries and the DPRK.

A similar protest was also held on August 25, hours after the military government, the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country (CNSP), ordered the French ambassador out of Niger. Protesters raised anti-French slogans, and threatened to invade the base if the troops did not leave Niger in a week.

Newly Appointed PM Looks To Mend Bridges With ECOWAS

Earlier media reports said:

Niger’s military-appointed Prime Minister Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine said on Monday that “contacts” were under way about a “very swift” departure of French troops.

Zeine nevertheless said he hoped to “maintain cooperation if possible with a country with which we have shared many things.”

Zeine told a press conference in Niamey on Monday that he had hope that a deal would be reached “in the coming days” with ECOWAS, adding that “contacts” were underway over a “very swift” pull-out of French forces from Niger after relations with Paris collapsed following the military takeover.

“We are bracing to be attacked at any time. Every preparation has been taken. It would be an unjust war. We are determined to defend ourselves if there is an attack,” Zeine told reporters. His tweet said:

Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, Niger’s military-appointed prime minister, said at a news conference on Monday that he’s hopeful of an agreement with the west African bloc #ECOWAS to end a stalemate. He added that contacts were underway over the pullout of French forces from

— CGTN Global Watch (@GlobalWatchCGTN) September 5, 2023

Niger Reopens Its Airspace

Citing official Niger News Agency, a report by news agency Saba said:

On Monday, Niger reopened its airspace, which had been closed since August 6.

The agency quoted a spokesman for the Nigerian Ministry of Transport on Monday saying that Niger’s airspace had been opened, and that “the airspace of the Republic of Niger was open to all national and international flights,” explaining that ground services had also resumed.

The spokesman added, “The airspace remains closed to all military flights and other private flights that do not have prior authorization from the competent authorities.”

Niger had closed its land and air borders and then reopened them with five border countries on August 2: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali and Chad.

On August 6, Niger announced the closure of its airspace “in the face of the threat of interference that was emerging from neighboring countries.”

It is noteworthy that Niger is still subject to sanctions imposed by the ECOWAS to put pressure on the military.

The UN has warned that regional sanctions and border closures “have a significant impact on Niger’s supply of vital foodstuffs and medical equipment.”

‘Niger Does Not Belong To France’

“Niger doesn’t belong to France. We told the French to leave, but they said ‘no’,” complained Aicha, a supporter of CNSP protesting outside the base. “As citizens we don’t want the French here. They can do whatever they want in France, but not here,” she told Al Jazeera.

The popular sentiment against the presence of French troops has manifested in several mass demonstrations, especially militant over the last two years. By cracking down on the anti-French movement and inviting into the country more French troops, ordered out of neighboring Mali by its military government, former Nigerien president Mohamed Bazoum had consolidated domestic perception of him being a puppet of France.

‘The Fight Will Not Stop Until The Day There Are No Longer French Soldiers In Niger’

“The fight will not stop until the day there are no longer any French soldiers in Niger,” CNSP member Colonel Obro Amadou said in his address to a crowd of around 20,000 supporters who had gathered in Niger’s largest stadium in Niamey on August 26. “It is you who are going to drive them out,” he added.

Insisting that “France must respect” the choice of Nigerien people, Ramatou Boubacar, a CNSP supporter in the stadium, complained about the continued control France maintained over successive Nigerien governments even after the end of colonial rule. “For sixty years, we have never been independent [until] the day of the coup d’etat,” she told the AFP.

Nigerian President Has Toned Down

The current chair of ECOWAS, Nigeria’s president Bola Tinubu has toned down his initially aggressive and threatening rhetoric against Niger after facing anti-war protests and opposition domestically. On August 5, a day before the one-week deadline given by ECOWAS on July 30 to the CNSP to reinstate Bazoum was to expire, the senate of Nigeria refused to support military action.

Without the participation of Nigeria, which has Africa’s largest economy, amounting to about 67% of ECOWAS’ GDP, and the largest military in the sub-region, the ECOWAS’ capability of undertaking a military action is drastically reduced.

This is especially the case because Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea — which are among the 15 countries in ECOWAS, but suspended and sanctioned after similar popularly-supported coups backed by the domestic anti-French movement — have extended support to Niger.

Mali and Burkina Faso, whose military governments have successfully ordered the French troops out of the country, have committed to mobilize their military in defense of Niger. Together, these four countries amount to nearly 60% of ECOWAS’ land area.

Ghana’s president is also facing domestic opposition and may be unlikely to be able to secure approval of the parliament where the main opposition party, opposed to military intervention, has the same number of seats as the ruling party.

Invading Niger Will Not Be A Walk In The Park, Warns General Tchiani

Stating that “threats of aggression on the national territory are increasingly being felt,” Brigadier General Moussa Barmou placed the Nigerien military on “Maximum alert” on August 25, “in order to avoid a general surprise”.

Abdoulaye Diop and Olivia Rouamba, Foreign Ministers of Mali and Burkina Faso, visited Niamey on August 24, reiterating their “rejection of an armed intervention against the people of Niger which will be considered as a declaration of war” on their own countries.

They also welcomed the two orders signed by the CNSP president Abdourahamane Tchiani that day, “authorizing the Defense and Security Forces of Burkina Faso and Mali to intervene on Nigerien territory in the event of an attack.”

“If an attack were to be undertaken against us,” Tchiani said in his televised address on Saturday, “it will not be the walk in the park some people seem to think.”

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