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Threat of military conflict hangs over West Africa as Burkina Faso and Mali back Niger to the hilt

Delegations from Burkina Faso and Mali leaving for Niger on Monday (Image courtesy: Forces Armees Maliennes)

As tension continues to build over the West African region, Burkina Faso and Mali have dispatched a joint delegation to Niger Monday afternoon.

The Malian army announced on its social media handles that the delegation is being led by the country’s Minister of State for Territorial Administration and has left for Niamey with the “objective to show the solidarity of the two countries to the brotherly people of Niger”.

The significant visit comes as the seven-day deadline given to Niger’s new military leaders to put an end to their coup, release country’s President Mohamed Bazoum, all the members of his government, and allow an immediate return to constitutional and democratic order, ended Sunday.

Bazoum was ousted in a military coup led by General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the commander of the country’s presidential guard, on July 26 in fresh trouble for the terror-infested Sahel region.

Burkina Faso

The Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) – a regional economic bloc of 15 countries which has been making frantic efforts to resolve the ongoing impasse – had assigned a seven-day deadline following a meeting of the bloc’s heads of state and government in Nigeria’s capital of Abuja on July 30.

ECOWAS had made it clear that in the event its demands are not met by Sunday, the grouping will take all measures necessary to restore democracy in Niger with measures that may include “the use of force”.

At the same time, both Burkina Faso and Mali, suspended from the regional economic bloc following similar military takeovers, have warned that any military intervention against Niger would be tantamount to a declaration of war against them as well.

On Sunday, as the ECOWAS ultimatum ended, top leaders of the newly-formed National Council for the Safeguarding of the Fatherland (CNSP) led by General Tchiani addressed a massive gathering of over 30,000 coup supporters in Niamey, also announcing the closure of country’s airspace.

“Faced with the threat of intervention which is becoming clearer from neighbuoring countries, Niger’s airspace is closed until further notice,” declared the coup leaders who have already warned ECOWAS of immediate retaliation in the event of any planned “aggression or attempted aggression”.

The Niger coup leaders also believe that preparation of the intervention has been made in two countries of Central Africa.

Early Monday, Paris said that it is suspending until further notice all its development aid and budgetary support actions in Burkina Faso where a young military leader and interim president Ibrahim Traore has gained popularity for taking an anti-West stand and backing Niger coup leaders.

French Foreign Ministry also issued a fresh travel advisory stating that any trip to Niger is “formally discouraged”, calling upon French nationals in Niger to be extremely vigilant and limit their movements.

France, which ruled the landlocked country until 1960 and still retained a major influence over the uranium-rich territory – has made it clear that it does not recognise the authorities resulting from the coup led by General Tchiani.

On Saturday, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna met Niger Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou – who was on a foreign trip at the time of the coup back home – in Paris to reaffirm France’s full support for Bazoum, the “only legitimate authorities” in Niger.

“France supports with firmness and determination the efforts of ECOWAS to defeat this putsch attempt. The future of Niger and the stability of the entire region are at stake,” the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement after the meeting.

Niger holds large reserves of uranium with as many as 30 French companies active in the country covering all economic sectors, particularly in services, distribution and in the mining sector.