French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Sunday evening that his country’s ambassador to Niger will return “in the next few hours” to France, and that French forces will leave the African country by the end of the year. The move follows a two-month confrontation with the Nigerien military junta.
Before the 26 July coup in Niger, it was one of France’s last allies in the Sahel. The withdrawal of the 1,500 French soldiers stationed in the country comes after similar troop deployments were forced to end in Mali and Burkina Faso under pressure from the military who took power in those two former French colonies.
Macron has been refusing for weeks to take Ambassador Sylvain Itte back to France, despite the demands of the Nigerien military regime. The ambassador and his staff were staying in the French Embassy stripped of their diplomatic immunity. They were subject to deportation if they left the embassy, even as their supplies of food and water were running out.
This is a new step towards establishing the sovereignty of Niger
The ruling military junta in Niger welcomed France’s announcement of its intention to withdraw its forces from the country by the end of the year. “This is a new step towards establishing the sovereignty of Niger,” said the regime. “Any person, institution or structure whose presence threatens the interests and outlook of our country will have to leave the land of our ancestors, whether they like it or not. Our resistance will be unwavering, and we will deal with any institution or structure attempting to challenge the higher interests of our nation.”
France has so far refused to recognise the military regime. It still considers ousted President Mohamed Bazoum to be the “sole legitimate authority” in Niger. Bazoum has been detained since the end of July with his wife and son in the presidential residence. According to Macron, the “de facto authorities of Niger don’t want to fight terrorism any more,” and that is why he is withdrawing French troops and ending “military cooperation” with the government in Niamey.