UN chief demands immediate and unconditional release of Niger's President Bazoum

Humanitarian operations have been suspended in Niger due to the coup

Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks at UN headquarters in New York. AFP
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday demanded the immediate and unconditional release of Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum a day after a group of soldiers seized power in a coup in the African nation.

Mr Guterres strongly condemned the assault against the democratically elected government and urged the soldiers – who call themselves the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country – to respect the rule of law.

The Secretary General added he had spoken to Mr Bazoum by phone on Wednesday.

“I don't know exactly where he is, but he was detained,” he said. “He told me he was well, but he told me that the situation was very serious.”

Mr Guterres said he was “extremely worried” about the situation in Niger and warned of the “terrible effects on development” and civilians due to “successive unconstitutional changes of government in the Sahel region”.

The US echoed Mr Guterres's concern and called for Mr Bazoum's.

"We understand that President Bazoum is detained in his residence. We call for the immediate release of President Bazoum and for the respect of the rule of law and public safety," said Vedant Patel, deputy spokesman at the State Department.

Mr Bazoum was seen as the final beacon of hope for western collaboration in the Sahel region following Mali's appeal for assistance from the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group.

The UN chief also expressed alarm over the “disturbing” trend of escalating terrorism and violent extremism in the Sahel, and the threat it poses to regional peace and stability.

“If you look at the region, you have the dramatic terrorist increase of activity in Mali, in Burkina Faso, in Niger and coming closer and closer to the countries of the coasts,” Mr Guterres further stressed.

He added that military regimes are gaining control even amid “a fragile transition in Chad and a horrible situation in Sudan”.

“The whole belt south of the Sahara is becoming an extremely problematic area with terrible consequences for their populations and with terrible consequences for peace and stability in the African continent,” he said.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told journalists on Thursday that humanitarian operations have been suspended in Niger due to the coup.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs “is telling us that humanitarian operations are currently on hold, given the situation”, said Mr Dujarric.

Updated: July 28, 2023, 5:29 AM