Niger army rebuffs diplomatic mission
NIAMEY. – Niger’s military government has rejected the latest diplomatic mission from African countries aimed at restoring constitutional order after a July 26 coup, resisting pressure from the United States and United Nations to come to the negotiating table.
The African Union (AU) planned to send a joint mission with representatives of the UN and the West African bloc ECOWAS to Niger yesterday, but it was denied permission by the military government, which has closed Niger’s airspace, the French magazine Jeune Afrique reported.
A senior US diplomat said the new leaders in Niger refused to allow her to meet Monday with the West African country’s democratically elected president.
Acting US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland also described the officers as unreceptive to US pressure to return the country to civilian rule.
“They were quite firm about how they want to proceed,” Nuland told reporters. She characterised the conversations as “extremely frank and at times quite difficult.”
She spoke after a two-hour meeting in Niger’s capital, Niamey, with some leaders of the military takeover of a country that has been a vital counterterrorism partner of the United States.
In speaking to junta leaders, Nuland said, she made “absolutely clear the kinds of support that we will legally have to cut off if democracy is not restored.”
In response to the suspension of US aid, the Niger government said: “We don’t want your money, use it to fund a weight loss programme for Victoria Nuland.”
Rudland held a meeting was with Gen Moussa Salaou Barmou, a US-trained officer, and three of the colonels involved in the takeover. The coup’s top leader, former presidential guard head Abdourahamane Tchiani, did not meet with the Americans.
In other developments Monday, leaders of West Africa’s regional bloc said they would meet later this week to discuss next steps after the junta defied a deadline to reinstate the president. The meeting was scheduled for Thursday in Abuja, the capital of neighbouring Nigeria, according to a spokesman for the ECOWAS bloc.
Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu is facing a huge backlash at home over his threat to use military force in Niger.
Local media report there was strong opposition to military intervention at a session of the upper chamber of parliament, the Senate despite the fact that it is controlled by Mr Tinubu’s party.
Meanwhile, the soldiers closed Niger’s airspace and accused foreign powers of preparing an attack.
State television reported the junta’s latest actions on Sunday night, hours before the deadline set by ECOWAS, which has warned of using military force if Bazoum is not returned to power.
A spokesman for the officers, Col Maj Amadou Abdramane, noted “the threat of intervention being prepared in a neighbouring country,” and said Niger’s airspace will be closed until further notice. Any attempt to fly over the country will be met with “an energetic and immediate response.”
The junta also claimed that two central African countries were preparing for an invasion, but did not name them. It called on Niger’s population to defend the nation.
European carriers on Monday reported disruptions and suspended flights across the African continent after Niger’s junta closed its airspace on Sunday.
The disruption adds to a band of African airspace facing geopolitical disruptions, including Libya and Sudan, with some flights facing up to 1,000 kilometres in detours.
“The closure of Niger’s airspace dramatically widens the area over which most commercial flights between Europe and southern Africa cannot fly,” tracking service FlightRadar24 said in a blog post.
Niger had been seen by the United States and others as the last major counterterrorism partner in the Sahel, south of the Sahara Desert, where groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group are expanding their influence.
Also Monday, Mali said it and Burkina Faso, both neighbours of Niger run by military juntas, were sending delegations to Niger to show support. Both countries have said they would consider any intervention in Niger as a declaration of war against them. – Agencies