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Niger Coup Leaders Revoke Military Agreements, Talk Efforts Falter

FILE - General Abdourahmane Tiani, who was declared as the new head of state of Niger by leaders of a coup, arrives to meet with ministers in Niamey, Niger July 28, 2023.
FILE - General Abdourahmane Tiani, who was declared as the new head of state of Niger by leaders of a coup, arrives to meet with ministers in Niamey, Niger July 28, 2023.

Niger’s military junta has revoked military cooperation agreements with France as a deadline to release and reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bozoum looms and efforts by a West African delegation to meet with coup leaders faltered.

Speaking on national television late Thursday, junta representative Amadou Abdramane read out the decision to end the military agreements with France, Niger’s former colonial ruler. The junta also fired the previous government’s ambassadors to France, the United States, Togo and neighboring Nigeria, which is leading efforts by the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, on dialogue.

ECOWAS, the West African regional bloc, has given coup leaders until Sunday to reinstate Bozoum, warning that it could resort to military intervention as a last resort.

Junta leaders have responded in turn by saying that force would be met with force.

In a statement that was also read on national television late Thursday, the junta said: "Any aggression or attempted aggression against the State of Niger will see an immediate and unannounced response from the Niger Defence and Security Forces on one of (the bloc's) members."

The warning came with an exception to "suspended friendly countries," a reference to Burkina Faso and Mali, two countries that have fallen to military coups in recent years.

Those countries' juntas have warned any military intervention in Niger would be tantamount to a "declaration of war" against them.

ECOWAS has tried unsuccessfully in the past to stop coups and restore democracies and it is doing the same thing with Niger. A delegation that arrived in Niger's capital, Niamey, Thursday ended up leaving without meeting with coup leader General Abdourahamane Tchiani or Bazoum.

Tchiani, the former head of Niger's presidential guard, ousted Bazoum last week in a military coup and declared himself head of state.

Tchiani said the power grab was necessary because of ongoing insecurity in the country caused by an Islamist insurgency.

But violent incidents in Niger actually decreased by almost 40% in the first six months of 2023 compared with the previous six months, according to data published Thursday by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

The project is a crisis-monitoring group based in the United States. Its data also indicate that insecurity in Niger was improving because of strategies of Bazoum's government and assistance from French and U.S. forces.

U.S. President Joe Biden called Thursday for Bazoum's immediate release.

He said in a statement that Niger is "facing a grave challenge to its democracy."

The White House, which has stopped short of calling this a coup, said Thursday it is "going to continue to review all our options around our cooperation with the Nigerien government."

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby refused to predict how the U.S. would react if the putschists ignore the deadline.

"You saw ECOWAS come out yesterday and say that, in their view, any use of force would be a last resort," Kirby told reporters. "I think I'd let them speak to that eventuality and the parameters of it. Right now, we're focused on diplomacy. We still believe there's time and space for that."

Military leaders put Bazoum under house arrest on July 26 and named Tchiani as their new leader on Monday.

On Thursday, Bazoum, who has been held by the coup plotters with his family since his ouster, warned that if the putsch proved successful, "it will have devastating consequences for our country, our region and the entire world."

In a Washington Post column, he called on "the U.S. government and the entire international community to help us restore our constitutional order."

The coup has been condemned by Western countries, including the U.S., which says it stands with Nigeriens, ECOWAS and the African Union as they work to roll back the coup. The State Department said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Bazoum by telephone Wednesday to discuss the situation.

Some information is from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.