Niger’s coup leaders have accused France of gathering forces, war materials and equipment in several neighbouring West African countries with a view to “military intervention”.
Relations with France, Niger’s former colonial power, degraded after Paris stood by ousted president Mohamed Bazoum following the July coup.
“France continues to deploy its forces in several ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) countries as part of preparations for an aggression against Niger, which it is planning in collaboration with this community organisation,” Niger’s regime spokesman Colonel Major Amadou Abdramane said on Saturday.
The Sahel state is also embroiled in a standoff with the West African bloc ECOWAS, which has threatened to intervene militarily if diplomatic pressure to return Bazoum to office fails.
In his statement, Abdramane said France had deployed military aircraft, helicopters and 40 armoured vehicles to Cote d’Ivoire and Benin.
“Military cargo aircraft have enabled large quantities of war material and equipment to be unloaded in Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and Benin, to name but a few,” he added.
– Withdrawal of French forces –
On August 3, Niger’s coup leaders renounced several military cooperation agreements with France, which has about 1,500 soldiers stationed in the country as part of a wider fight against jihadists.
Paris, which refuses to recognise the military regime in Niger, does not consider the soldiers who overthrew the president as party to those cooperation deals.
The military regime meanwhile maintains France’s forces are now “illegally” stationed in Niger.
On Tuesday, a Paris defence ministry source told AFP that the French army was in talks with the military regime over withdrawing “elements” of its presence in Niger, confirming comments made the previous day by the Niger’s regime-appointed Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine.
Every day for more than a week, thousands of people have gathered in the Nigerien capital Niamey around a military base housing French soldiers to demand their departure.
The United States, which has around 1,100 soldiers in Niger, has begun to relocate its troops “as a precaution” from Niamey to the central city of Agadez, the US Department of Defense said this week.
– Tug-of-war –
France is engaged in a tug-of-war with Niger, which has also withdrawn the diplomatic immunity of French ambassador Sylvain Itte and ordered police to expel him.
France has refused the demand on several occasions, saying the military regime has no legal right to make such an order.
On Monday, however, Zeine said discussions were underway about a “very swift” departure of France’s troops, but that his government hoped “to maintain cooperation with a country with which we have shared a great deal”.
He also said he was “hopeful” that his country could come to an agreement with ECOWAS after the coup leaders announced a transition period lasting a maximum of three years.
The West African bloc has said it does not want Niger to repeat “the experiences of Mali, Guinea and Burkina”, with which it had to haggle over the durations and conditions of transition periods.
Originally published as Niger military accuses France of deploying forces with eye to ‘intervention’