France evacuates citizens from Niger after neighbours warn of war

Niger awaits ECOWAS's response after junta rejects ultimatum

France and other EU countries have begun evacuating hundreds of their citizens from Niger on Tuesday, a day after neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso said any outside intervention to restore the ousted government would be seen as a declaration of war.

A military junta overthrew Niger’s democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum and his government last Wednesday in the seventh military takeover in less than three years in West and Central Africa.

West African regional bloc ECOWAS last Sunday threatened to use force to reinstate Bazoum if the soldiers didn’t do it within a week, while neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso – also ruled by military juntas – said they would come to Niger’s defence.

With the risk of conflict escalating, Spain said it was preparing to evacuate more than 70 citizens by air and Italy said it would organise a repatriation flight. Germany urged its citizens to join the French flights.

The coup has sent shockwaves across the Sahel region, which is fighting an Islamist militant insurgency and where Niger had been considered the West’s most stable ally until now.

The recent coups in the region have come amid a wave of anti-French sentiment, with locals saying they want the former colonial ruler to stop intervening in their affairs and calling for partnerships with Russia instead.

Niger’s new military leaders have proceeded to arrest senior politicians and warned against any foreign attempts to extract Bazoum, who is still shut in his palace.

“Considering the ongoing coup in Niger and the fact that the situation continues to be worrying, we decided to make sure that the French citizens who want to leave Niger can do so,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told France’s LCI TV.

She estimated that hundreds of French citizens and hundreds of other EU citizens wanted to be evacuated on flights she hoped would be completed over 24 hours.

Flightradar showed a plane registered to the French armed forces had landed at the airport of the capital Niamey at 1207 GMT and was due to depart around 1510 GMT.

France, the United States, Germany, and Italy have troops in Niger on counter-insurgency and training missions. There has been no announcement of troops being evacuated so far.

Colonna said France had talked with “those who are in control” in Niger to make sure the evacuation could proceed safely, which was in no way a recognition of the junta.

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