Withdrawal of French troops from Niger nearly half-complete, colonel says

NIAMEY (Reuters) – Another French military convoy is scheduled to leave Niger for Chad in the coming days, marking the half-way point of the promised withdrawal of the 1,450 French troops based in the West African nation, Niger colonel Mamane Sani Kaiou said on Friday.

Last week, French military convoys began leaving bases in southwest Niger – the start of a departure demanded by Niger’s junta that has dealt a further blow to France’s influence in West Africa’s conflict-hit Sahel region.

“As of today, 282 people have left. In the next few days, close to 400 or more will be leaving, bringing the troops here in Niger down to half of the 1,450,” the colonel told reporters at a joint press conference with the commander of France’s Sahel forces.

French General Eric Ozanne said a convoy that left last week had arrived in Chad’s capital N’Djamena and that the journey had gone smoothly.

“It was perfectly planned and prepared by the Niger authorities,” Ozanne said, adding that he expected the same consideration for future convoys.

Following weeks of pressure from the military officers who seized power in July, France last month agreed to withdraw its troops based in Niger by the end of the year, marking a definitive breakdown in military ties with its former colony amid a wave of anti-French sentiment in the region.

Ozanne said the troops withdrawing by road via Chad would not remain there. “This is not the repositioning of our operations from Niger to Chad,” the general said, adding that the goal remained to have completed the withdrawal from Niger by Dec. 31.

(Reporting by Abdel-Kader Mazou; Writing by Anait Miridzhanian; Editing by Alistair Bell)