Niger's junta expels French ambassador Sylvain Itte

Ambassador Sylvain Itte

France's Ambassador Sylvain Itte

The Nigerien Ministry of Foreign Affairs said French Ambassador Sylvain Itte was asked to leave Niger within 48 hours in a letter that accused him of snubbing it.

The letter dated Friday accused Itte of snubbing an invitation to a meeting and said the “actions of the French government (are) contrary to the interests of Niger.”

Before last month’s ouster of Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum, Niger, a former French colony, was seen as the West’s last major partner against jihadi violence in the Sahel region below the Sahara Desert, which is rife with anti-French sentiment.

The French Embassy in Niger´s capital, Niamey, was attacked in the early days of the July 26 coup.

The military leaders of the coup have requested help from private Russian military company Wagner to stem extremist attacks.

The status of the request following the death of Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin in a plane crash this week is unknown.

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ECOWAS said on Friday that along with the African Union, it “stands against the use of private military contractors.”

But on Thursday, the junta authorized troops from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso to come to its defense, raising the stakes in a standoff with other West African nations who are threatening force to reinstate Niger´s democratically elected president.

The junta leader, Brig. Gen. Abdrahmane Tchiani, signed two executive orders authorizing the “security forces of Burkina Faso and Mali to intervene on Niger territory in the event of aggression,” senior junta official Oumarou Ibrahim Sidi said late Thursday, after hosting a delegation from the two countries in the Nigerien capital, Niamey.

The junta’s agreement with Mali and Burkina Faso was the latest of several actions taken by Niger’s mutinous soldiers to defy sanctions and consolidate a junta they have said would rule for up to three years, further escalating the crisis after last month’s coup in the country of more than 25 million people.

The ECOWAS Commission president, Omar Alieu Touray, said Friday that the bloc’s threat to use force to reinstate Bazoum was “still on the table,” rejecting the junta’s three-year transition plan.

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