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France discussing withdrawal of ‘certain military elements’ from Niger

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The French army is holding talks with Niger’s military over withdrawing “elements” of its presence there following a coup, a defence ministry source said on Tuesday.

There has been speculation that France will be forced into a full military pullout from Niger after the July 26 putsch, which ousted French ally President Mohamed Bazoum.

Some 1,500 troops are deployed in Niger as part of France’s wider fight against jihadists in the Sahel.

The country became a crucial hub for France after coups forced the withdrawal of French troops from neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso.

“Discussions on the withdrawal of certain military elements have begun,” the defence ministry source told AFP, asking not to be named. The source did not give details.

Relations between Niger and France, the country’s former colonial power and traditional ally, went swiftly downhill after Paris stood by the elected Bazoum and declared the post-coup regime as illegitimate.

On August 3, the coup leaders renounced several military cooperation agreements with France, including one with a month-long notice period that expired on Sunday.

Niger’s military-appointed Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine said Monday that “contacts” were under way about a “very swift” departure for Paris’ troops.

Zeine nevertheless said he hoped to “maintain cooperation if possible with a country with which we have shared many things.”

A source close to Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu told AFP on Tuesday that talks were in progress about “easing movements of French military resources” in Niger.

That source noted that French forces had been “immobilised since anti-terrorist cooperation was suspended” following the military takeover.

The French forces are mostly based at an airfield near the capital Niamey, which in recent days has been targeted by thousands of protesters calling on them to leave.

The coup has been seen as a new major blow to French influence in the region following military takeovers in Mali in 2020 and Burkina Faso in 2022.

On August 30, a coup also overthrew Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba, whose father Omar held power for more than four decades.

But France has reacted with more restraint over the end of the 55-year pro-French dynasty in Gabon than it did over the fall of its ally Bazoum.

“The only authorities in Niger that we recognise — like the entire international community — are President Mohamed Bazoum and his government,” Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told the Le Monde daily Sunday in a reaffirmation of France’s position.

But she emphasised that French troops were in Niger at the request of the Bazoum-led authorities to take part in anti-terror operations.

“Today, this mission can no longer be ensured, since we no longer have — de facto — operations carried out jointly with the Niger armed forces,” she added.

But Colonna insisted that regional bloc ECOWAS — not France — was the prime player and echoed comments by President Emmanuel Macron that the concept of “Francafrique”, where Paris had neo-colonial ascendancy in the region, was no longer valid.

“The approach of France is to listen to Africans, not to decide for them. ‘Francafrique’ has been dead for a long time,” she said.

 

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AFP

Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.







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