Niger ruling junta has ordered police to expel the French ambassador, a move that marked a further deterioration in relations between the two countries, and which Paris said military officers had no right to do so.
The coup leaders followed the junta’s strategy in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso of distancing themselves from the region’s former colonial powers amid a wave of anti-French sentiment.
The visas of the French ambassador to Niamey Sylvain Itte and his family have been cancel and police ordered to expel the envoy, the junta said in a statement dated August 29 and confirmed its authenticity Thursday by its chief of communications.
The coup plotters, condemned by regional African authorities and Western nations, last Friday ordered Itte to leave the country within 48 hours in response to what they called French actions “against the interests of Niger”.
It said this included the envoy’s refusal to respond to an invitation to meet Niger’s new foreign minister.
France has called
for ousted president Mohamed Bazoum to return to office and has said it will support efforts by the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, to quash the coup.
France has made Niger the cornerstone of its operations against an ISIS insurgency in the Sahel region that has killed thousands of people over the past decade, with about 1,500 troops in the country supporting the local military.
It redefined its strategy after thousands of people withdrew from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso following coups there.
Paris has yet to officially recognize the junta’s decision to withdraw the bilateral military agreement, saying it had been signed with the “legitimate authorities” in Niger.
Similarly, the French Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that the coup leader did not have the authority to ask his ambassador to leave, adding that it was “constantly assessing the security and operational conditions of our embassies.”
President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that his ambassador would remain in Niger and reaffirmed France’s support for Bazoum.