By Chris King • 26 August 2023 • 1:37
Image of Sylvain Itte the French ambassador to Niger.
Credit: French embassy in Niger ne.ambafrance.org
THE soldiers who took power in Niamey at the end of July decided on Friday, August 25, to expel the French ambassador to Niger.
Sylvain Itté was given 48 hours to leave the country, as bilateral ties continue to deteriorate rapidly. The decision was immediately rejected by Paris.
Friday’s decision taken by the military in Niamey was the culmination of a month of demonstrations, decisions and declarations hostile to French policy in the African country.
The Nigerien Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it had made this decision in the face of: ‘The refusal of the French ambassador in Niamey to respond to the invitation for an interview on Friday and other actions by the French government contrary to the interests of the Niger’.
It added that the Ministry had: ‘decided to withdraw their approval from Mr Sylvain Itté and to ask him to leave Nigerien territory within forty-eight hours’.
In response, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs insisted that: ‘The putschists do not have the authority to make this request, with the ambassador’s approval emanating only from the legitimate elected Nigerien authorities’. This referred to President Mohamed Bazoum, who was overthrown on July 26.
A similar stance was shared by Hassoumi Massoudou, Bazoum’s head of diplomacy, who tweeted: ‘recalls that the ambassador is accredited to the elected President’.
The decision to expel the ambassador followed a series of statements, decisions and demonstrations hostile to France since the coup d’état against Mr Bazoum, who is still being held captive with part of his family.
In particular, the military regime accused Paris of wanting to intervene militarily in Niger to put Bazoum back in place. It also claimed that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was an organisation ‘0n the payroll’ of France, a former colonial power in the region.
ECOWAS imposed heavy economic and financial sanctions on Niger after the coup and threatened to use armed force against the military regime to restore constitutional order.
France has deployed 1,500 men to Niger who were helping the regime of President Bazoum to fight against the jihadist groups which have been bloodying this country and a large part of the Sahel for years.
On Wednesday 23, French President Emmanuel Macron once again called for the ‘restoration of constitutional order’ in Niger and the release of President Bazoum.
‘This coup is a blow against democracy in Niger, against the people of Niger, and against the fight against terrorism’, he said.
Four days after the coup, hundreds of supporters of the military who took power demonstrated in front of the French embassy in Niamey, causing damage there.
The demonstrators were dispersed with tear gas and the regime accused Paris of using weapons, which the French government categorically denied.
On August 3, the new masters of Niamey denounced a series of military agreements with France, a decision that Paris ignored, recognising only Mohamed Bazoum as Niger’s legitimate ruler.
Organisations hostile to the French military presence indicated this week that they intended to demonstrate from September 3 in front of the French military base in Niamey to demand the departure of the soldiers.
They also accused France of having repeatedly violated its closed airspace by the decision of the regime, and of having ‘released terrorists’.
According to them, that action constituted “a real plan to destabilise their country’. These accusations were again vigorously denied by Paris, as reported by lepoint.fr.
Several demonstrations of support for the soldiers who took power were each time punctuated by slogans hostile to France and ECOWAS. Meanwhile, Russia – which benefits from hostility towards Paris in the Sahel – was praised and applauded.
Military-occupied Niger follows in the footsteps of Mali and Burkina Faso, where there is no longer a French ambassador.
These two countries have been led since 2020 and 2022 respectively by soldiers who took power by force. Faced with jihadist violence they showed solidarity with the generals of Niamey, saying they were ready to fight alongside the Nigerien army in the event of an emergency ECOWAS intervention.
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Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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