Will the French army end up leaving Niger, as it had left Mali? According to the Prime Minister appointed by the putschist military in power, “exchanges” are underway to obtain a rapid departure of French soldiers. Monday, during a press conference lasting more than an hour, Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine affirmed that the French forces were “in a position of illegality” in Niger and that the “exchanges which are in progress should allow very quickly » their withdrawal.
On August 3, the generals who took power in a coup had denounced several military cooperation agreements with Paris, which has around 1,500 soldiers engaged in the anti-jihadist fight in Niger. One of these texts contained a notice of one month, according to them.
However, the new government hopes “if possible to maintain cooperation with a country with which we have shared a lot of things”. Niger also withdrew the diplomatic immunity and visa of French Ambador Sylvain Itté and demanded his expulsion. A decision that the Prime Minister justifies by the “contemptuous behavior” of the diplomat who refused to respond to an invitation to a meeting with the authorities on August 25.
The ambador, “a person in an irregular situation”
France, a former colonial power which regularly reaffirms that it does not recognize the new authorities in Niamey, has indicated that it does not intend to apply these decisions, whether they are soldiers or of the ambador.
“Do you think we’re going to send the police into the emby?” It is an enclave that we recognize. But if he leaves, he is a person in an irregular situation, ”said Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine.
According to Article 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the premises of an emby are “inviolable” and agents of the state in which they are located are not permitted “to enter therein, except with the consent of the head of the mission”.
Hope for an agreement with ECOWAS
The head of government appointed by the military, who overthrew elected President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, also spoke of dialogue with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). “We have not stopped discussions with ECOWAS. We are hopeful of reaching an agreement in a few days,” he said.
But the West African organization has not changed its position since the coup: it is calling for an “immediate” return to constitutional order, which requires the release of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum and his reinstatement in office. The new authorities in Niamey are planning a transition of “three years maximum”.
ECOWAS has several times brandished the threat of armed intervention and imposed heavy economic sanctions in Niger. “We expect at any time to be able to be attacked. All arrangements are made. It would be an unjust war. We are determined to defend ourselves, if ever there is an attack,” the Prime Minister continued.
China as a mediator?
On Thursday, the President of Nigeria, also at the head of ECOWAS, had opened the door to a possible short transition period. He cited as an example the nine-month transition that had been implemented in his country in 1999, seeing “no reason why this could not happen again in Niger, if the military authorities are sincere”.
China, through the voice of its ambador in Niamey, indicated on Monday that it wanted to “play a role of mediator in the Nigerien crisis. “China always pursues the principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs” and encourages African countries “to solve their problems in African ways”, Jiang Feng explained, after meeting with Ali. Mahaman Lamine Zeine.
On Monday, Niger also reopened its airspace for commercial flights.