ECOWAS military chiefs agree plan for possible Niger interventionFri, 04 Aug 2023 19:23:06 GMT

West African regional bloc ECOWAS said on Friday its military chiefs had agreed a plan for a possible intervention in Niger, after it failed to secure a return to civilian rule there following last week’s coup.”All the elements that will go into any eventual intervention have been worked out, including the resources needed, and including the how and when we are going to deploy the force,” said ECOWAS commissioner Abdel-Fatau Musah.”We want diplomacy to work, and we want this message clearly transmitted to them (the junta) that we are giving them every opportunity to reverse what they have done,” he added.The chiefs of staff of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) took the step after a delegation from the 15-nation bloc failed to broker a return to power of President Mohamed Bazoum, and the junta curtailed military cooperation with former colonial power France.The ECOWAS delegation had arrived on Thursday in the capital Niamey but did not stay overnight as scheduled, nor meet either Bazoum or coup leader Abdourahamane Tiani, a delegation member said on Friday.The bloc’s military chiefs subsequently said they had agreed an intervention plan as Sunday’s deadline neared for the junta to reinstate 63-year-old Bazoum, who was deposed on July 26.In a deepening of the regional crisis, the junta announced earlier on Friday it was scrapping military pacts between Niger and France, citing the former ruler’s “careless attitude and its reaction to the situation”.Niger has played a key part in Western strategies to combat a jihadist insurgency that has plagued the Sahel since 2012, with France and the United States stationing around 1,500 and 1,000 troops in the country respectively.France rejected the coup leaders’ severing of military ties, insisting only the “legitimate” government could decide.Niger’s ambassador to France said she did not recognise her sacking by the putschists and was loyal to Bazoum, feted in 2021 after winning an election that ushered in Niger’s first-ever transfer of power from one civilian government to another.- Warnings against military intervention -Regional powerhouse Nigeria holds the rotating ECOWAS presidency, which has imposed sanctions and on Sunday gave the putschists a week to restore Bazoum to power or risk possible armed intervention.Nigerian President Bola Tinubu said the bloc would do its best to resolve the crisis amicably, with military intervention a last resort.  The junta has warned it would meet force with force.Russia, which has increased its footprint across the Sahel in recent years, said foreign intervention would not resolve the crisis. “It is unlikely that the intervention of any extra-regional force can change the situation for the better,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.Neighbouring Benin said diplomacy must remain the preferred solution.But Mali and Burkina Faso, which have both seen military governments take power in the past three years, have cautioned against any regional intervention, their respective juntas warning that would be tantamount to a “declaration of war”.The European Union said it “strongly” condemned the blocking of French media broadcasts in Niger, where there have been protests against Paris since the coup.”This step is a serious violation of the right to information and freedom of expression. The EU strongly condemns these violations of fundamental freedoms,” EU spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said on Twitter, which is being renamed X.Germany meanwhile urged continued “mediation efforts” to defuse the situation.Bazoum, held by the coup plotters with his family, said on Thursday that if the putsch proved successful, “it will have devastating consequences for our country, our region and the entire world”.In a column in The Washington Post — his first lengthy statement since his detention — Bazoum urged “the US government and the entire international community to help us restore our constitutional order”.- Nationwide protests -Thursday saw thousands of people rally to back the coup leaders on the anniversary of the country’s 1960 independence, some waving giant Russian flags and chanting anti-French slogans.Anti-French sentiment in the region is on the rise, while Russian activity, often through the Wagner mercenary group, has grown.On Friday there werew sporadic rallies both for and against the putsch.Around 100 people from several western African nations rallied in Niamey to protest at any idea of a military intervention. But in the western town of Tahoua, several hundred people gathered to show support for Bazoum and demand his unconditional release, one local journalist reported.Bazoum warned on Thursday that Niger’s neighbours have increasingly invited in “criminal Russian mercenaries such as the Wagner Group at the expense of their people’s rights and dignity”. “The entire Sahel region,” he said, “could fall to Russian influence via the Wagner Group, whose brutal terrorism has been on full display in Ukraine”.In a sign of a partial return to normality, the putschists on Friday lifted a curfew in force since the July 26 takeover.France has evacuated 1,079 people from the country, more than half of them French nationals, while the US State Department said the United States has chartered a plane to evacuate non-essential personnel and US citizens wishing to leave the country.Spain’s foreign ministry said Madrid had evacuated more than 70 people, including 16 Spanish nationals, from Niger aboard a government-chartered Airbus A330 military plane.The plane arrived at Torrejon airbase outside Madrid late on Friday afternoon with citizens from several countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said on social media.