ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Niger’s new military leaders accused France of amassing forces for a possible military intervention in the country following the coup in July. French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that he would only take action at the demand of deposed Nigerien leader Mohamed Bazoum.
Niger’s junta spokesman, Maj. Amadou Abdramane, said that France is also considering collaborating in such an intervention with the Economic Community of West African States, a regional bloc known as ECOWAS.
“France continues to deploy its forces in several ECOWAS countries as part of preparations for an aggression against Niger,” Abdramane said late Saturday in a statement broadcast on state television.
Macron said he wouldn’t directly respond to the junta’s claim when asked about it after the Group of 20 summit.
“If we redeploy anything, it will only be at the demand of Bazoum and in coordination with him, not with those people who are holding a president hostage,” he said.
Macron, however, added that France “fully” supports the position of ECOWAS, which has said it’s considering a military intervention as an option to reinstate Bazoum as president.
Since toppling Bazoum, the junta in Niger, a former French colony, has leveraged anti-French sentiment among the population — asking the French ambassador and troops to leave — to shore up its support in resistance to regional and international pressure to reinstate the president. The country had been a strategic partner of France and the West in the fight against growing jihadi violence in the conflict-ridden Sahel region, the arid expanse below the Sahara Desert.
The junta spokesman said that France has deployed military aircraft and armored vehicles in countries like Ivory Coast, Senegal and Benin for such an aggression, a claim that The Associated Press couldn’t independently verify.
“This is why the National Council for the Protection of the Fatherland and the transitional government launch a solemn appeal to the great people of Niger to be vigilant and never to demobilize until the inevitable departure of French troops from our territory,” he said.
French military spokesperson Col. Pierre Gaudilliere, meanwhile, said Thursday that there is now “a little less” than its 1,500 troops in Niger who had been working with Nigerien security forces to beat back the jihadi violence.
All French activities have been suspended since the coup, “therefore, declarations that have been made (earlier by the French) are about exploring what we’re going to do with these capabilities,” Gaudilliere said.
Angela Charlton contributed to this report from Paris.