Niger’s prime minister says talks underway for French troops to rapidly leave

Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine says talks underway on French military withdrawal as well as ECOWAS sanctions

James Tasamba  | 05.09.2023 - Update : 05.09.2023
Niger’s prime minister says talks underway for French troops to rapidly leave

KIGALI, Rwanda

Niger’s military government is in talks with France aimed at ensuring a rapid withdrawal of French troops from the West African country, the country’s prime minister said Monday as citizen protests against the troops' presence continued.

Thousands of protestors have rallied in recent days in Niger’s capital Niamey to protest against the presence of French troops in the West African country, where the military ousted an elected president more than a month ago.

Addressing a press conference in Niamey on wide-ranging issues, Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine maintained that French troops are in the country “illegally” after the military administration “cancelled the agreements that allowed them to be on our territory.”

“They are in a position of illegality, but I think that ongoing exchanges should allow these forces to withdraw from our country very quickly,” Zeine said.

Niger hosts around 1,500 French troops as part of a regional counter-insurgency force.

On Aug. 3, Niger’s military leaders announced the scrapping of military agreements with France, a decision that Paris rubbished, citing a lack of legitimacy.

Zeine also spoke about French Ambassador Sylvain Itte, who was expelled from the country last week but refused to leave, even when military authorities revoked his privileges and immunities.

The premier said that Itte, who French President Emmanuel Macron has hailed for his courage, “did not behave properly as a diplomat.”

“This is contempt that is not acceptable,” he said.

Zeine meanwhile said that his government is also holding discussions with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the possibility of lifting “as soon as possible” the heavy sanctions imposed on Niger following the political crisis.

“We have been very open to dialogue, so we have not stopped the exchanges with ECOWAS. It's an ongoing process, and we hope that we will very quickly reach an agreement so that these sanctions imposed rather hastily on Niger are lifted,” he said.

On the possibility of military intervention by ECOWAS to restore constitutional order, Zeine said it would be “unfair if they decided to attack us, but all arrangements are being made so that we can defend ourselves.”

Niger was plunged into turmoil on July 26 when Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani, a former commander of the presidential guard, led a military intervention that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.

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