African Union suspends Niger over coup, weighs risks of interventionTue, 22 Aug 2023 12:39:23 GMT

The African Union said Tuesday it had suspended coup-hit Niger until civilian rule is restored and announced it would assess the implications of any armed intervention in the Sahel nation. In a crisis now nearly four weeks old, the West African regional bloc ECOWAS has threatened to use force to reinstate Niger’s elected president, Mohamed Bazoum.The Peace and Security Council “requests the AU Commission to undertake an assessment of the economic, social and security implications of deploying a standby force in Niger and report back to Council,” the bloc said, following strong differences on the matter. Army officers toppled Bazoum on July 26, prompting the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to approve activation of a “standby force to restore constitutional order” in Niamey.The bloc has said it is ready to intervene as a last resort but is continuing to press for a diplomatic solution.The AU last week held a meeting on the crisis against a backdrop of divergent views within the bloc over any military intervention.The coup has heightened international worries over the Sahel, which faces growing jihadist insurgencies linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.Niger is the fourth nation in West Africa since 2020 to suffer a coup, following Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali.The new military ruler General Abdourahamane Tiani has proposed a three-year transition back to democracy, a call rejected by ECOWAS, which sent a delegation to visit Niger on the weekend in a final diplomatic push.Abdel-Fatau Musah, ECOWAS commissioner for politics and security, described the proposal as “a joke” and said the bloc would “never accept it”.”We want constitutional order to be restored as soon as possible,” he told Al Jazeera in an interview broadcast on Monday.”Military action is not off the table,” he warned.- Sanctions -In a televised address on Saturday, Tiani accused ECOWAS of preparing to attack Niger by setting up an occupying force in collaboration with a foreign army, without referencing which country.ECOWAS has given no date or details about any intervention.Unlike a previous ECOWAS mission in early August, this time the delegation held talks with Tiani and also met Bazoum, who is being held with his family at the presidential palace and could be facing treason charges.Images on Niger television showed Bazoum smiling and shaking hands with members of the delegation, as international concern grows over his conditions in detention.- Supplies concern -The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) warned last week that sanctions and border closures were crimping vital food and medical supplies into Niger.ECOWAS has imposed sanctions on Niger while Benin and Nigeria have closed their borders. However, the juntas in neighbouring Burkina Faso and Mali have said that any military intervention in  Niger would be considered a “declaration of war” against their countries.Around 300 trucks arrived in Niger’s capital of Niamey on Monday from Burkina Faso, most of them carrying food, the Nigerien authorities said.The Sahel state ranks among the most turbulent and poorest countries in the world, often lying at the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index, a benchmark of prosperity.Bazoum’s election in 2021 was a landmark, opening the way to the country’s first peaceful transition of power.He survived two attempted coups before finally being toppled. His ouster marks the fifth putsch since Niger gained independence from France in 1960.