French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Sunday the end of the French military mission in Niger and the return to France of its ambassador, Sylvain Itté. The decision comes two months after the seizure of power by a coup junta that France refuses to recognize as a legitimate power.
The withdrawal of Itté, whose diplomatic immunity had been waived by the military junta and declared persona non grata, will be immediate. The withdrawal of the 1,500 soldiers who were in the African country to fight terrorism must conclude "from now to the end of the year," according to Macron.
"France has decided to return our ambassador, and in the next few hours he will return to France together with several diplomats," Macron said in an interview with TF1 and France 2 networks. "And we end our military cooperation with the de facto authorities of Niger, because they no longer want to fight terrorism."
The president said he had spoken on Sunday afternoon, before the television interview, with the ousted Mohamed Bazoum, whom France considers the only legitimate president. He added that the withdrawal of the military will take place "in an orderly manner in the weeks and months ahead." It will be done, he said, in a "concerted" manner with the coup plotters so that "it happens in calm."
Ten days ago, Macron denounced that Ambassador Itté was held hostage by the coup junta and was prevented from moving from the embassy and receiving food from abroad. Talks between the French and Nigeriens military for withdrawal began at the beginning of the month.
By announcing the withdrawal of the ambassador and the troops, Macron yields in the pulse he has maintained with the coup plotters since they overthrew and detained Bazoum at the end of July. At the same time, it is the confirmation of a reality: neither the ambassador nor the military could work in Niger and it made little sense to maintain the mission.
France, which in 2013 intervened in the Sahel at the request of the countries of the region to stop the jihadist advance, has been forced in recent years to withdraw its troops from Mali, Burkina Faso and the Central African Republic. Now Niger is joining.
The "epidemic of coups" — as Macron has called it — in former French colonies in Africa has been underpinned by anti-French sentiment. It has occurred in a context of Chinese strength on the continent and Russian agitation through the Wagner mercenary group.
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