France is reportedly in discussions with the military of Niger over the possible withdrawal of its troops from the West African country due to the deterioration of relations following a coup in July, Al Jazeera reported citing French media reports.
Nicolas Normand, a former French ambassador to Mali and Senegal, confirmed the information to Al Jazeera, stating that, in accordance with his sources, negotiations to “partially” evacuate soldiers between the French and Niger forces were in progress.
France at odds with Niger’s new military leadership
The discussions between the two militaries, according to Normand’s source, should not be seen as a recognition of the coup leaders but rather as a “technical” discussion.
France has been at odds with Niger’s new military leadership, after France’s refusal to accept the July 26 coup that toppled President Mohamed Bazoum, a French ally. French President Emmanuel Macron has continued to support Bazoum, who is still being held.
Thousands of people rallied for days in the capital Niamey in support of the new regime’s uncompromising attitude against the former colonial power and the coup leaders’ call for the French ambassador and military to leave Niger.
As part of France’s larger campaign against armed rebels in the Sahel region, about 1,500 French troops are stationed in Niger. After coups forced withdrawal of French forces from adjacent Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger became a crucial hub for France, Al Jazeera reported.
A protest was staged outside the French military base in Niamey, where organisers said people should not”let their guards down” unless all French soldiers leave the country, as reported by Al Jazeera.
The coup leaders renounced a number of military cooperation agreements with France on August 3, one of which had a notice period of a month that ended on Sunday.
Zeine Wishing for cooperation
Niger’s military-appointed Prime Minister Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine, said on Monday that “contacts” on a “very swift” withdrawal of French troops were in progress.
However, Zeine stated that he wished to “maintain cooperation, if possible, with a country with which we have shared many things.”The majority of the French military are mostly based at an airfield close to the capital, which has recently come under attack from tens of thousands of protestors urging them to leave.
Following military takeovers in Burkina Faso in 2022 and Mali in 2020, the coup has been seen as a new significant blow to French power in the region.
“The only authorities in Niger that we recognise – like the entire international community – are President Mohamed Bazoum and his government,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told the Le Monde daily newspaper on Sunday in a reaffirmation of her country’s position.
She, however, laid emphasis that French troops were in Niger at the request of the Bazoum-led authorities to take part in”anti-terror” operations.
“Today, this mission can no longer be ensured, since we no longer have – de facto – operations carried out jointly with the Niger armed forces,” she said.
However, Colonna insisted that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), not France, was the main actor in the region. She also backed Macron’s assertions that “Francafrique,” in which Paris held neocolonial dominance in the area, was no longer relevant, Al Jazeera reported. (ANI)