West Africa: Niger Ends Military Deal With Benin Over Fears of Ecowas Intervention

Assimi Goita , Mali's transitional president

Niger's junta has scrapped a military pact with Benin, accusing its neighbour of authorising the deployment of troops on its territory for a possible military intervention by the Ecowas regional bloc. This comes as the French foreign ministry has called for the immediate release of a French official who was arrested in Niger at the weekend.

The move by the military junta in Niamey comes as the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) is still trying to negotiate with the coup leaders, but the bloc has said if diplomatic efforts fail it is ready to use force as a last resort to restore constitutional order and reverse the putsch.

In a statement read on national television, the junta said Benin had "authorised the deployment of soldiers, mercenaries, and war materials" in the context of the possible Ecowas intervention.

As a result the new Nigerien authorities have decided "to renounce the military cooperation agreement [with Benin]," it said.

There has been no immediate response from Cotonou.

#Niger🇳🇪Le #CNSP accusent les autorités #béninoises 🇧🇯 d'avoir autorisé le stationnement sur son sol de soldats mercenaires en vue d'une agression contre le #Niger🇳🇪 en collaboration avec des pays de la #CEDEAO et dénonce les accords de défense avec le #Benin 🇳🇪 pic.twitter.com/aj3RfGJcLf-- Mounkaila Abdou sani🇳🇪 (@MounkailaSani1) September 13, 2023

Ecowas has not shared any details about possible deployments and just last week, Niger said talks with the bloc were continuing.

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who holds the bloc's revolving chairmanship, has suggested that a nine-month transition back to civilian rule could satisfy regional powers.

To date, Niger's junta has proposed a three-year timeline.

French official held by junta

Meanwhile, France's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that a French official has been arrested in Niger, and has called for the junta to release him.

The ministry said on X (formerly Twitter), that Stephane Jullien, counsellor for French citizens abroad - a non-diplomatic, elected post - was arrested last Friday, and called for his "immediate release".

French President Emmanuel Macron has said that France's ambassador would stay at his post in Niger despite being asked to leave by the coup leaders.

Ambassador Sylvain Itte was asked to leave Niger within 48 hours in a letter on 25 August from the Nigerien Foreign Ministry that accused him of ignoring an invitation for a meeting with the ministry. The letter also cited "actions of the French government contrary to the interests of Niger."

Addressing ambassadors in August, Macron dismissed concerns that standing up to the junta could be dangerous.

#Niger | La France suit avec la plus grande attention la situation de M. Stéphane Jullien, conseiller des Français de l'étranger basé au Niger, arrêté le 8 septembre par les forces de sécurité nigériennes. Elle appelle à sa libération immédiate.➡️ https://t.co/l51ZFHfcyI pic.twitter.com/fwxnXtCRNV-- France Diplomatie🇫🇷🇪🇺 (@francediplo) September 12, 2023

The arrest of the French official is sure to further raise already high tensions between France and its former colony, Niger.

The Foreign Ministry did not elaborate on where and how Jullien was arrested or whether officials in Paris knew where he was being held.

It said only that France was following the situation closely and was "fully mobilised" to assure him the protections due to anyone in another country.

France has consistently acknowledged only the authority of ousted president Mohamed Bazoum, who remains in detention by the junta.

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