The military authorities of Niger, who took control of the government in July, gave the French ambassador 48 hours to leave the country, according to a statement issued by Niamey’s foreign ministry on Friday.
Since the July 26 coup, relations between the new leadership in Niamey and many Western nations, as well as the West African bloc ECOWAS, have deteriorated.
The French government swiftly rejected the order against its ambassador, stating that it did not recognize the authority of the military rulers.
The French foreign ministry told AFP on Friday evening: “The putschists do not have the authority to make this request, the ambassador’s approval coming solely from the legitimate elected Nigerien authorities.”
The ultimatum issued to the French envoy comes only days after ECOWAS threatened military intervention to overthrow president Mohamed Bazoum in a coup last month.
Paris has frequently supported ECOWAS’ call for the reinstatement of Bazoum.
France has 1,500 troops stationed in Niger, assisting Bazoum in his fight against Islamist forces who have been operating in the nation for years.
Pressure from ECOWAS
Earlier on Friday, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) asked Niger’s coup leaders to reconsider their stance and advocated for a return to civilian governance, with the danger of force still “very much on the table.”
While the generals who deposed Bazoum have advocated for a three-year transition period, ECOWAS has demanded that constitutional order be restored immediately.
With delegations arriving in Niamey, ECOWAS stated that discussions remained its first priority, but defense commanders readied a standby mission for a possible “legitimate use of force” to restore democracy if necessary.
“Even now, it is not too late for the military to reconsider its action and listen to the voice of reason as the regional leaders will not condone a coup d’etat,” ECOWAS commission president Omar Alieu Touray told reporters in Abuja.
“The real issue is the determination of the community to halt the spiral of coup d’etats in the region.”
ECOWAS has already applied sanctions against Niger to pressure the new regime.
Since 2020, three more countries in the Sahel region have fallen to military rebellions, and jihadists control large swaths of land.
ECOWAS leaders are already dealing with military administrations in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, all of whom are attempting to move to democracy following coups of their own.
After initially refusing, Niger’s new authorities have stated that they are still willing to negotiate.
They have, however, issued contradictory signals, including a threat to prosecute Bazoum, who is still being held at his official residence with his family, with treason.
Military authorities in Niger have also warned against any intervention, accusing ECOWAS of preparing an occupying force in collaboration with an unidentified foreign power.
The officers indicated on Thursday that in the event of an assault, troops from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso would be allowed to intervene in Niger.
However, Touray criticized intentions for ECOWAS to “declare war” or “invade” Niger, saying that the standby mission would be a legitimate force permitted under ECOWAS statutes agreed upon by members.
“The instruments include the use of force. So it is very much on the table, as are other measures we are working on,” he said.
“If peaceful means fail, ECOWAS cannot just fold its hands.”
In the past, ECOWAS has engaged militarily in crises such as civil conflicts. There have been little information released about the new standby army.
However, preparations for any use of military force in Niger are dangerous, and there is already political opposition in northern Nigeria, a crucial player in ECOWAS and the region.
Algeria, Niger’s northern neighbor, has also warned that an intervention would have terrible ramifications for the region.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf visited West African countries this week to attempt to find a solution to the situation, which Algiers strongly opposes militarily.
“There is a time for everything and we are currently in the time of finding peaceful solutions,” he said on a visit to Benin.
“Let’s put all our imagination into giving every chance to a political solution.”