Niger: Emmanuel Macron announces the repatriation of the ambassador and French soldiers

After two months of a standoff with the Nigerien junta, Emmanuel Macron announced, Sunday September 24, the return to France “in the coming hours” of the French ambassador to Niamey, and the withdrawal of French troops from here the end of the year

Niger: Emmanuel Macron announces the repatriation of the ambassador and French soldiers

After two months of a standoff with the Nigerien junta, Emmanuel Macron announced, Sunday September 24, the return to France “in the coming hours” of the French ambassador to Niamey, and the withdrawal of French troops from here the end of the year. This withdrawal of the 1,500 soldiers based in Niger, which before the July 26 coup was one of Paris's last allies in the Sahel, comes after those from Mali and Burkina Faso, where France had already been pushed towards exit by hostile juntas.

“France has decided to bring back its ambassador”, whom Paris has so far refused to recall, and “we are ending our military cooperation with Niger”, declared the French president during an interview with the 8 p.m. newspapers of France 2 and TF1, assuring that French soldiers would leave “in the coming weeks and months” and that the withdrawal would be completely completed “by the end of the year”.

The Nigerien military regime in power welcomed the French president's announcement in the evening. “This Sunday, we celebrate the new step towards the sovereignty of Niger. French troops as well as the French ambassador will leave Nigerien soil by the end of the year. This is a historic moment which testifies to the determination and will of the Nigerien people,” said a statement from the military in power, read on national television.

At the beginning of August, a week after the junta took power, the generals denounced several military cooperation agreements with France, the former colonial power. One of these texts contained a month's notice, and the regime claims that French soldiers deployed in Niger for the anti-jihadist fight are present "illegally" in the country. Demonstrations have since taken place regularly in the capital to demand their departure.

Similarly, at the end of August, the military regime ordered the expulsion of the French ambassador to Niamey, Sylvain Itté, and withdrew his diplomatic immunity and visa. The ambassador and his team remained locked in the French footprint, risking expulsion if they left and seeing their food and water supplies running out. Until now, not recognizing the military regime in place and not wanting to give in to the “injunctions” of the junta, Paris refused to recall its ambassador.

“Barkhane was a success”

France continues, as the president repeated on Sunday evening, to consider ousted president Mohamed Bazoum, detained since the end of July with his wife and son at the presidential residence, as "the only legitimate authority" in the country. But Paris, which was counting on an intervention by the Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to restore Mr. Bazoum and constitutional order, had few options left to maintain itself in Niger.

“This is the end of this cooperation,” Emmanuel Macron ended up saying. “We will consult with the putschists because we want it to be done peacefully,” however, the French president clarified. After ten years of anti-terrorist military operation in the Sahel, France now only has a presence in Chad (1,000 soldiers) in this region. However, Operation “Barkhane was a success,” assured Mr. Macron, repeating that Paris had intervened at the request of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

“Without it, most of these countries would have already been taken by territorial caliphates and jihadists,” insisted the president, in a speech that is still very virulent towards the juntas in the Sahel. “We are not here to be hostages of the coup plotters,” he said. “The putschists are the friends of disorder,” said Mr. Macron, stressing that jihadist attacks were causing “dozens of deaths every day in Mali” and that they had resumed with a vengeance in Niger. “I am very worried about this region,” Mr. Macron continued. “France, sometimes alone, has taken all its responsibilities and I am proud of our soldiers. But we are not responsible for the political life of these countries and we draw all the consequences. »