Niger’s ruling Junta on Wednesday accused France of violating Niger’s airspace and freeing “terrorists” as tensions continue to rise in West Africa after the ousting of Nigerien President Mahamoud Bazoum.
The coup leaders shut down Niger’s airspace on Sunday to prepare for potential military intervention, as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has threatened to use force to reinstate Bazoum.
The junta, which is calling itself the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP), said that a French aircraft entered Niger from Chad on Wednesday morning despite the ban on air traffic and “deliberately cut off all contact with air traffic control.” For their part, France, the former colonial ruler of Niger, denied the accusation and said the flight had been coordinated with Niger’s military.
The CNSP said France also “unilaterally freed captured terrorists” and claimed the freed jihadists were planning attacks in the tri-border area where Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali meet. France also denied having released any terrorists.
The junta also reported attacks on Niger military forces, but according to Africa News, the statement did not link the attack to the terrorists allegedly released by France. “Events of an extreme gravity are unfolding in Niger as a result of the behavior of the French forces and their accomplices,” the CNSP said.
Also on Wednesday, Nigeria said ECOWAS has not ruled out military intervention in Niger as the bloc is preparing to hold another summit on the situation on Thursday. The US has backed ECOWAS threats and has also not ruled out supporting the use of force to reinstate Bazoum.
When asked on Tuesday if the US would support ECOWAS military action, State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller said, “We are supporting a diplomatic path at this time, and I wouldn’t want to speculate about other outcomes or other policy choices that we might make at some other point.” The US has 1,100 troops and a major drone base in Niger.
Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland visited Niger on Monday and did not receive a warm reception from the junta. She described the talks as very “difficult” and sounded doubtful that the junta would relinquish power and reinstate Bazoum.