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Niger: ECOWAS finalizes potential military intervention plan

Published August 4, 2023last updated August 4, 2023

West African military chiefs say they have drawn up plans to end the coup in Niger and the US has decided to halt aid programs in the country. Meanwhile, regional leaders are still hoping to find a diplomatic solution.

Thousands of people gather in support of the putschist soldiers in Niamey
Thousands of people took to the streets Thursday in support of the junta leaders and against French influenceImage: Stringer/Reuters

Defense chiefs of the West African regional group, ECOWAS, on Friday, agreed on a plan for intervention in Niger if its coup leaders do not restore constitutional order.

Abdel-Fatau Musah, ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs, said their recommendations would be passed on to the heads of state.

"All the elements that will go into any eventual intervention have been worked out here, including the resources needed, the how and when we are going deploy the force," he said.

ECOWAS is also trying to pursue a diplomatic solution, but it had set a Sunday deadline as a last resort if Niger's junta do not restore ousted president Mohammed Bazoum to power.

What are the real motives of Niger’s coup leaders

Junta thwarts diplomatic outreach

A team from ECOWAS left Niger Friday failing to secure the return to power of Niger's elected government. 

Led by former Nigerian President Abdulsalami Abubakar, the delegation was scheduled to meet  coup leader Abdourahamane Tchani, who also goes by Omar, to present the bloc's demands. 

It was also scheduled to meet Niger's ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.

Beyond Africa, Germany urged continued "mediation efforts" on Friday, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman expressing hopes that such mediation would lead to a "political solution."

What can ECOWAS do to counter Niger coup?

Russia, meanwhile, warned of outside intervention. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was closely monitoring the situation and favoring "a swift return to constitutional normality without endangering human lives."

"It is unlikely that the intervention of any extra-regional force can change the situation for the better," Peskov told reporters.

How has the Niger junta responded?

The junta had rejected ECOWAS' demands and threat of force.

"Any aggression or attempted aggression against the State of Niger will see an immediate and unannounced response from the Niger Defense and Security Forces on one of [the bloc's] members," one of the putschists said in a statement read on national television late Thursday.

Also on Thursday, the junta announced ending the functions of the country's ambassadors to Nigeria, which is leading ECOWAS efforts on dialogue, as well as neighboring Togo, the US and France.

Hundreds rally in Niger, denouncing France

US suspends aid in Niger

The US has decided that it will halt some of its aid programs in Niger. In a statement, US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken on Friday said, "the US government is pausing certain foreign assistance programs benefiting the government of Niger." 

"As we have made clear since the outset of this situation, the provision of U.S. assistance to the government of Niger depends on democratic governance and respect for constitutional order," Blinken said.

Notably, not all aid programs will be suspended according to Blinken's statement which said, "life-saving humanitarian and food assistance will continue." It further added that the US will continue to engage with Niger through diplomatic channels and continue its military operations to protect its troops in the country.

The European Union, Germany and France, all major donors to Niger, took similar steps and announced suspension of their financial assistance to the country last week.

Bazoum speaks up

In a Washington Post opinion plea published in the early hours of Friday, Bazoum appealed for an end to the coup, stressing it reverses the security and prosperity his administration had worked hard to achieve since he was elected in 2021.

Describing himself as a "hostage" at the time of writing the letter, Bazoum warned of the expansion of military rule in the Sahel region, if Niger is to follow in Mali and Burkina Faso's footsteps. Both countries have experienced coups in recent years.

He also warned of Russia's growing influence in the region via the Wagner group.

"In our hour of need, I call on the US government and the entire international community to help us restore our constitutional order," Bazoum wrote.

Ousted Niger president calls for help: DW reports

lo,rmt/sms (AFP, AP)