French President Emmanuel Macron has said that his country will withdraw its ambassador and troops from Niger in the wake of the July coup that overthrew democratically-elected President Mohamed Bazoum.
Macron said on TV on Sunday, “France has decided to withdraw its ambassador, and along with several diplomats, they will return to France.
He added that military cooperation was “over” and that 1,500 French troops stationed in the country would withdraw in “the months and weeks to come” with a full pullout “by the end of the year”.
France’s exit comes after weeks of pressure from the military and popular demonstrations. Thousands of people have protested in the capital, Niamey, including outside a military base housing French soldiers.
Niger’s new rulers, who had been demanding France’s exit after Macron refused to recognize the July 26 coup, welcomed the French president’s announcement. The development comes as France’s troops have also been asked to leave its former colonies of Mali and Burkina Faso.
The regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), imposed sanctions in the wake of the July coup and warned that it could intervene militarily if diplomatic efforts to return Bazoum to power fail as a last resort. But ECOWAS dialed back its rhetoric as regional countries threw their weight behind the new military rulers.
The three Sahel countries—Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, which have all witnessed coups in recent years—formed a mutual defense pact on September 16 against possible threats of armed rebellion or external aggression.
Macron noted that France’s military presence in Niger was in response to a request from Niger’s government at the time. Niger’s military rulers ended cooperation with France following the coup after claiming that Bazoum’s government was not doing enough to protect the country from the armed rebellion in the country’s west, which is part of the Sahel region.
In the last decade, the Sahel region that stretches to central Mali, northern Burkina Faso and western Niger has become the epicentre of violence by armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS).
Western countries had partnered with Bazoum to tackle the growing influence of armed groups and poured millions of dollars of military aid and assistance to shore up Niger’s forces.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the military government accused United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of “obstructing” the West African nation’s full participation at the UN’s annual meeting of world leaders to appease France and its allies.