France in talks with Niger officials over troop withdrawal

Niamey wants to maintain 'co-operation' with Paris

Nigerien servicemen stand guard in Niamey as protesters gather to demand the departure of the French military from Niger. AFP
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France has started talks with some Nigerien army officials over the withdrawal of an unknown number of troops from the African country following a coup in July, Le Monde reported on Tuesday.

At this stage, neither the number of French soldiers involved nor the timing of their departure have been decided, Le Monde said, citing several unidentified French sources close to the matter.

The talks are not being held with putsch leaders, but with regular army officials with whom France has long co-operated, the newspaper said.

The report comes one day after a press conference given by Niger's new Prime Minister Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine in which he said that efforts were being made for French forces to leave his country.

“We are interested, if possible, in maintaining co-operation with a country with which we have shared a lot of things,” he said on Monday.

He also said that a deal with the Economic Community of West African States, which had at first threatened to intervene militarily after the coup, could be seen in the coming days.

Following the coup, France, the former colonial power in Niger, said it would end military co-operation and cut all development aid to the country.

1,500 troops

But Paris had so far rejected calls by the putsch leaders to withdraw the 1,500 French troops currently in Niger, saying it still regards democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum, currently held prisoner, as the country's legitimate leader.

French soldiers are deployed in the capital Niamey, in the town of Ouallam, 90 kilometres north of the capital, and in Ayorou, near the Malian border, according to Le Monde.

Members of Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu's entourage told The National that contact had been made with the Nigerien military to enable the movement of the French troops, but they declined to comment further.

“Exchanges of functional co-ordination exist locally between soldiers to facilitate the movement of French military resources immobilised since the suspension of anti-terrorist co-operation,” they said.

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered outside a French military base in Niger's capital Niamey last Saturday demanding that its troops leave.

According to Le Monde, some French troops could be redeployed in the region, notably in neighbouring Chad, while others could return to France.

But a withdrawal from Niger would be a blow to France's influence in the region, after having had to leave Mali, where Russian mercenaries have moved in.

Niger has been a security partner of France and the United States, which have used it as a base to fight an extremist insurgency in West and Central Africa's wider Sahel region.

Updated: September 05, 2023, 5:13 PM