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Niger: Junta says will charge deposed leader with treason

Published August 14, 2023last updated August 14, 2023

Niger's coup leaders say they will prosecute deposed President Mohamed Bazoum for "high treason." Earlier, they reportedly said they were willing to negotiate with the West African bloc ECOWAS.

Abdourahmane Tchiani and other army commanders held a meeting in Niamey
Niger's putchists showed willingness to negotiate with ECOWAS for the first timeImage: Balima Boureima/picture alliance/AA

The military regime that took power in Niger in a coup in late July said on Monday it would bring deposed President Mohamed Bazoum to trial on charges of "high treason" and undermining state security.

In a televised announcement, junta spokesman Colonel Major Amadou Abdramane said the regime had "gathered the necessary evidence to prosecute before competent national and international authorities the ousted president and his local and foreign accomplices for high treason and for undermining the internal and external security of Niger."

Bazoum, the democratically elected president of the West African country, was ousted in the July 26 coup and has since been held in his presidential residence along with his son and wife.

Condemnation from ECOWAS, UN

The junta's announcement was slammed by the international community, including the United Nations and the regional bloc ECOWAS.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters the charges against Bazoum were "very worrying."

Niger junta to try ousted leader for 'high treason'

"We remain extremely concerned about the state of being, the health and safety of the president and his family, and again we call for his immediate and unconditional release and his reinstatement as head of state," he said.

ECOWAS, meanwhile, lambasted the move in a statement, saying it was shocked to learn about it.

The bloc argued this "represents yet another form of provocation and contradicts the reported willingness of the military authorities in the Republic of Niger to restore constitutional order through peaceful means."

The US State Department also warned pressing charges against Bazoum would worsen tensions rather than deescalate the crisis peacefully, describing the action as "completely unwarranted and unjustified."

"We are incredibly dismayed by reports that President Bazoum's unjust detention has gone even a step further," State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

'Open to explore diplomacy'

The decision to charge Bazoum came shortly after reports by mediators that the junta was ready to consider a diplomatic solution to its stand-off with ECOWAS.

A group of senior Nigerian Islamic scholars quoted coup leader General Abdourahmane Tchiani as saying that "their doors were open to explore diplomacy and peace in resolving the matter."

They met the junta leader in the capital, Niamey.

Tchiani stressed the historic ties between Niger and Nigeria, saying the countries "were not only neighbors but brothers and sisters who should resolve issues amicably."

Tchiani defends coup

The discussion by the Nigerian scholars was led by Sheikh Abdullahi Bala Lau and came after ECOWAS' call for reinstating Bazoum as president.

Tchiani "claimed the coup was well-intended" and that the plotters "struck to stave off an imminent threat that would have affected" Nigeria as well as Niger, according to Lau's statement.

But Tchiani said it was "painful" that ECOWAS had issued an ultimatum to restore Bazoum without hearing "their side of the matter."

Show of support for junta in Niger's capital Niamey

First delegation from ECOWAS

Niger's new military rulers have so far refused to receive any official ECOWAS delegations. One delegation had to leave after a short stay at the airport, and another was banned from entering the country.

The visit of clerics comes as ECOWAS, currently led by Nigeria, explores its options to restore civilian rule in Niger. The bloc had imposed sanctions and threatened to use military force if the putchists don't reinstate President Bazoum. 

Any military intervention by the bloc could further strain regional ties, as juntas in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea have voiced support for Niger's new military rulers.

Fear of Russian influence

Niger, a country of some 26 million people with one of the poorest populations in the world, had been one of the last democratic partners of the US and European nations in the Sahel region on the southern edge of the Sahara.

US, French, German and Italian troops are stationed in Niger, in a region where local affiliates of terrorist groups al-Qaeda and the so-called "Islamic State" have killed thousands and displaced millions.

Meanwhile, Western powers fear Russia's clout could increase if the junta in Niger follows Mali and Burkina Faso, which ejected the troops of former colonial power France after coups in those countries.

The presence of Wagner group, the private Russian paramilitary unit of mercenaries, in Mali has particularly raised concerns in the West about Russian influence in the region. 

dh/lo (AFP, dpa, Reuters)