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EU ministers back sanctions against Niger coup leaders

Published August 31, 2023last updated August 31, 2023

While EU foreign ministers agreed to draw up sanctions, the bloc is staying quiet for now on whether it would back a potential move by ECOWAS to use military action to restore Niger's ousted government.

Josep Borrell, High Representative and Vice President of the European Commission speaks in Toledo, Spain
The European Union's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said the bloc is drawing up sanctions that mirror those implemented by ECOWASImage: Denis Doyle/Getty Images

The European Union's foreign ministers agreed on Thursday to take steps against military leaders who seized power in Niger in late July.

The decision came during talks in the Spanish city of Toledo, which were also attended by the foreign minister of the ousted Niger civilian government. The talks also included Omar Alieu Touray, the president of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) commission.

Foreign ministers from the EU's 27 member states expressed deep concern and alarm over the mounting number of military coups on the African continent — with military leaders most recently seizing power in Gabon this week.

What did the EU ministers agree on Niger?

The EU's foreign ministers agreed to start drafting sanctions against coup leaders in Niger — saying they would mirror measures levied by the West African regional body ECOWAS.

A month after coup, Niger's situation is dire

The bloc's sanctions, however, would contain certain exemptions for humanitarian reasons.

"We don't want sanctions to become an additional punishment for the world's second-poorest country," the EU's foreign policy head Josep Borrell said following the meeting.

In the aftermath of the July 26 coup in Niger, ECOWAS moved to enforce asset freezes, travel bans and other sanctions against those who are hampering the return of Niger's democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum.

What was said about possible military action?

While the EU gave its backing to ECOWAS sanctions, the bloc was more reserved when it came to supporting potential future military intervention.

Borrell said the EU would carefully study proposals submitted by ECOWAS, but other ministers indicated they remain focused on a diplomatic solution.

Diplomats privy to the talks in Toledo told Reuters news agency that ECOWAS representatives sought to probe EU support for military intervention.

Niger deadline passes for French envoy's exit: DW reports

Niger strips French ambassador of immunity

Thursday's meeting coincided with Niger's military rulers announcing the withdrawal of the French ambassador's diplomatic immunity in the country, ordering the police to expel him.

Last Friday, Niger's military rulers ordered the French ambassador to leave the country in the next 48 hours, saying he had refused an invitation to meet with Niger's junta-appointed foreign minister on the same day.

On Thursday, the French AFP news agency cited a letter to the foreign ministry in Paris as saying the envoy "no longer enjoys the privileges and immunities attached to his status as member of the diplomatic personnel in the French embassy."

A document circulated on social media, believed to be the letter in question, was dated August 29. It said the French ambassador had lost such privileges since the expiry of the 48 hours on August 28.

On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said that France's ambassador to Niger will stay in the West African country.

Niger gained independence from France in 1960 and had been a key ally in Western campaigns against insurgents linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group in the Sahel.

rs, rmt/jcg (AFP, Reuters, AP)