France has started talks with some Niger army officials over withdrawing some troops from the African country following a coup which ousted a democratically elected government in July.
A month after the ruling junta denounced enduring military cooperation agreements between France and Niger, “discussions on the withdrawal of certain military elements have begun,” French sources close to the matter confirmed to Le Monde.
“It is normal to discuss this insofar as anti-terrorist cooperation has been suspended” since the July 26 coup, one of them added.
At this stage, neither the number of soldiers involved nor the manner of this departure has been officially decided, but the general principle has been accepted. 1,500 French soldiers are currently deployed in the country, at three bases: in the capital, Niamey, in Ouallam, to the north of the capital, and in Ayorou, near the border with Mali. Some units may be redeployed in the region, notably in neighboring Chad, or repatriated directly to Paris.
Until now, the French authorities had always rejected requests to withdraw French personnel from the country, disputing the legitimacy of the ruling junta. They are also refusing to allow the return of the French ambassador, Sylvain Itté, to Paris. And they are demanding the return to power of President Mohamed Bazoum, with whom French President Emmanuel Macron remains in contact.
“There is dialogue locally between military personnel to facilitate the movement of French military resources immobilized since the suspension of anti-terrorist cooperation,” the office of Minister of the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu explained on Tuesday, September 5. Drones, helicopters and aircraft have been grounded for a month. A source insisted that discussions are only being held between the military, not with the ruling junta, as France continues to refuse to recognize the government that emerged from the putsch.