West Africa defence chiefs meet today to discuss Niger coup

The Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, defence chiefs will meet in Abuja, Nigeria today to discuss last week’s coup in Niger, the bloc said in a statement on Tuesday.

Leaders of ECOWAS have slapped sanctions on Niger and warned that force may be applied after a week ultimatum to the junta to reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum.

But the junta has warned that it would resist any “plan of aggression against Niger” by regional or Western powers.

Meanwhile hundreds of coup supporters protested outside the French embassy in the capital Niamey.

A statement read out after the Sunday summit in Nigeria said that Ecowas had “zero tolerance” for coups.

The regional bloc said it would “take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order” if its demands were not met within a week.

“Such measures may include the use of force” and military chiefs are to meet “immediately” to plan for an intervention, the statement added.

The Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel, Leonardo Santos Simão who was at the meeting said ECOWAS had taken a decisive action because events in Niger were concerning.

“Niger is playing a key role in fighting terrorism. If Niger stops playing this role this will give more space and more leeway to terrorists to expand in the region”, Dr Leonardo Santos Simao told BBC’s Newshour programme.

He added that “no official negotiations” were taking place between ECOWAS and the country’s military junta.

This is the first time ECOWAS has threatened military action to reverse the coups that have taken place in the region in recent years.

It last sanctioned military intervention in 2017, when Senegalese troops were deployed to The Gambia to force long-serving ruler Yahya Jammeh to leave office after he refused to accept defeat in elections.

Chad’s President, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno has gone to Niamey to tell the junta to step down, Chad’s government said.

He met junta deputy leader Gen. Salifou Mody. But it is still unclear if he will hold talks with the Head of the Presidential Guards Unit, Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani who has declared himself Niger’s new ruler.

The West African leaders also announced the immediate enforcement of a no-fly zone over Niger for all commercial flights, the closure of all land borders with the country, and the imposition of financial sanctions against the junta.

Ahead of their meeting, Gen. Tchiani warned ECOWAS and unnamed Western nations against stepping in.

“We once again reiterate to ECOWAS or any other adventurer, our firm determination to defend our fatherland”, a statement said.

The coup has prompted concern that Niger, a former French colony, could pivot towards Russia.

The ousted president had worked closely with both regional and Western nations to fight militant Islamists. Burkina Faso and Mali moved closer to Russia after their own coups.

In Niamey, some of the protesters outside the French embassy chanted “Long live Russia”, “Long live Putin” and “Down with France”. They also set fire to the walls of the embassy compound, AFP news agency reported.

France would not tolerate any attack on its interests in Niger, and would respond in an “immediate and intractable manner”, President Emmanuel Macron’s office said in a statement.

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