West African Countries Plan to Deploy Standby Troops in Niger

West Africa’s economic bloc moved closer to intervening to overturn a coup in Niger, as global outrage grew over the treatment of deposed President Mohamed Bazoum.

(Bloomberg) — West Africa’s economic bloc moved closer to intervening to overturn a coup in Niger, as global outrage grew over the treatment of deposed President Mohamed Bazoum.

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States activated a standby military force, ramping up pressure on the junta, which has withheld food, water and power from Bazoum since taking him hostage on July 26. The bloc will continue to pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis, said Bola Tinubu, the president of neighboring Nigeria who currently chairs Ecowas.

“No option is taken off the table, including the use of force as a last resort. If we don’t do it, no one else will do it for us,” Tinubu told reporters late Thursday in the capital, Abuja. “I hope that through our collective efforts we can bring about a peaceful resolution as a roadmap to restoring stability and democracy in Niger. All is not lost yet.”

The coup in Niger is the region’s sixth coup in the past three years and has brought condemnation from Western nations including France and the US, which together have thousands of troops stationed in the country. The country has been a key international ally in the global fight against jihadists in the region.

If it’s ultimately successful, the coup will create a belt of military-run countries from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, most of which are friendlier with Russia than with the West.

Junta members told US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who visited Niger this week, that they would kill Bazoum if there was any regional military intervention to restore his rule, the Associated Press reported, citing two unidentified Western officials.

Bazoum is being deprived of food, water and electricity at an army camp where he’s been held captive for the past two weeks, according to people familiar with the matter. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement voicing concern over the “deplorable living conditions” being imposed on the president and his family. Ecowas said it would hold the junta “fully and solely responsible” for Bazoum’s safety and security. The African Union on Friday called his treatment “unacceptable.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how the Ecowas standby force would be deployed. 

Ivory Coast will provide between 850 and 1,100 troops, while Benin and Nigeria agreed to deploy forces and other countries will follow soon, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara told reporters at a briefing in Abidjan, the commercial capital.

“Ivory Coast will provide a battalion and has made all the financial arrangements for the operation” he said. “I’ve just instructed the army chief of staff to start mobilizing the troops.” 

Any intervention would have to be led by Nigeria, the region’s most populous and influential country and its biggest military. Tinubu has faced opposition to the proposed deployment from politicians in Nigeria’s north, which shares a more than 1,000-mile border and cultural ties with Niger.

The bloc, which pledged to enforce asset freezes and travel bans on those hindering the return to democracy, said it would continue to prioritize diplomacy in Niger. The coup leaders previously rejected a demand by Ecowas to return Bazoum to power by an Aug. 6 deadline or face the threat of military action.

On Thursday, the junta announced the appointment of a 21-member cabinet, naming military officers to the key posts of defense, security and interior ministers. Ali Lamine Zeine, who was appointed as prime minister earlier this week, was also given the finance portfolio.

(Updates with AU statement)

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