All French soldiers deployed in Niger as part of the fight against jihadism will have left the country by December 22, announced the military regime that came to power in a coup in Niamey, the final stage of a departure that began in October.
“By December 22, all French soldiers and their logistical (equipment) will have definitively left Niger,” said the Nigerien armed forces in a statement.
This is the culmination of a deep divorce between France and Niger since the generals came to power in Niamey in a coup on July 26.
They quickly demanded the departure of the 1,500 French soldiers deployed to fight the jihadists, and denounced several military agreements signed with Paris.
After a long standoff, France agreed, and Emmanuel Macron announced that the withdrawal would be completed by the end of the year.
On Tuesday, the Nigerian army stated that “the process of disengaging French troops is continuing so far in a coordinated manner and complete safety”.
“1,346 French troops and 80%” of logistical equipment “have been disengaged from our borders. To date, only 157 French soldiers remain on our territory, including 75 logisticians”, detailed the news item on Niger’s national television station, Télé Sahel, on Tuesday evening.
A first convoy of French soldiers left the country on October 10.
– Partnership breakdowns –
Since the coup d’état that toppled the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, who was sequestered in his residence, Niger’s ruling generals have been gradually severing the ties forged by the deposed regime with certain Western partners.
In early December, Niamey announced the end of two European Union (EU) civilian and military security and defense missions in the country, just as the ruling military welcomed a Russian delegation.
At the same time, since the coup d’état, Niger has been cooperating with Burkina Faso and Mali, also under military rule. All three countries are plagued by jihadist violence.
And after Mali last year, Burkina and Niger also announced in early December their withdrawal from the G5 Sahel anti-jihadist organization, now made up of Mauritania and Chad.
Niger has been hit by bloody attacks in its western and southeastern parts by groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
– Regional sanctions maintained –
At the end of a summit in Abuja on Sunday, other West African countries meeting within Ecowas maintained the heavy economic and financial sanctions imposed on Niger after the coup d’état, making their easing conditional in particular on a “short transition”.
US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee, who attended the summit, was in Niamey on Tuesday, heading a delegation that met with Niger’s military-appointed Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, according to Niger Radio.
In addition, the new US ambassador to Niger, Kathleen FitzGibbon, who arrived in Niamey in mid-August, will soon present her credentials to the authorities, according to Niger’s Foreign Minister, Bakary Yaou Sangaré, in early December.
For their part, international NGOs working in Niger called on Tuesday for the sanctions imposed by Ecowas against Niamey to be eased, and for emergency humanitarian aid to be allowed in through neighboring Benin.
They deplored the fact that Ecowas had “ignored appeals” from the humanitarian community “to ensure that civilians in Niger have access to vital aid”. According to them, more than 4.3 million people are in need of urgent assistance in Niger.