Sahel Summit Looms: ECOWAS Leaders Meet Amid Accusations Between Niger and France

Sahel Summit Looms: ECOWAS Leaders Meet Amid Accusations Between Niger and France

Niger’s new military leadership has accused France, a long-standing ally of the country, of freeing captured jihadists and violating airspace restrictions just before a significant Sahel crisis summit.

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The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is convening in Abuja, Nigeria, to assess their response options, with diplomatic approaches appearing to take precedence over immediate military intervention.

France’s Alleged Actions and Niger’s Response

In the aftermath of a recent coup that ousted elected president Mohamed Bazoum, the new regime has accused France of unilaterally releasing terrorists who were captured, referring to jihadists involved in an eight-year insurgency.

These alleged jihadists purportedly gathered to plan an attack on military positions in the tri-border area, where the borders of Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali intersect.

The military leaders, known as the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP), issued a statement expressing their concern about the situation’s gravity due to the conduct of French forces and their associates.

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They urged heightened alertness among security forces nationwide and called on the public to remain vigilant.

Furthermore, the regime accused France of violating a recently imposed ban on its airspace by flying a military aircraft from Chad into Niger’s airspace.

However, France promptly denied these allegations, stating that the flight had been authorized and coordinated with Nigerien armed forces.

Summit and Diplomatic Efforts

The Sahel crisis summit scheduled for the following day is organized by ECOWAS, led by Nigeria, a regional power advocating for a firm stance against the coup.

ECOWAS has given the military rulers of Niger until a previous Sunday to reinstate the ousted president or potentially face the use of force.

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Despite the deadline passing without action, the coup leaders remain unyielding.

Efforts to send a joint team of ECOWAS, UN, and African Union (AU) representatives to the capital, Niamey, were rejected by the coup leaders.

In an unexpected turn, a former emir of the Nigerian city of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, revealed that he had engaged with the coup leaders to facilitate mediation.

However, he emphasized that he was not an official government emissary.

Concerns for President Bazoum and the Sahel Crisis

There are growing concerns about the well-being of the detained former president Mohamed Bazoum, who was apprehended by his own presidential guard.

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres criticized the deplorable conditions under which Bazoum and his family are reportedly living.

Reports indicate that Bazoum is isolated and forced to consume dry rice and pasta.

The ongoing coup crisis compounds the existing challenges faced by Niger and other Sahel nations, which are grappling with a jihadist insurgency that began in northern Mali in 2012.

The insurgency subsequently spread to Niger and Burkina Faso, causing instability and posing a regional security threat.

In the context of the broader Sahel crisis, these events underscore the complexities of regional security dynamics and the delicate balance between diplomatic resolutions and potential military actions.

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