Niger’s ousted prime minister hopes talks can end military coup
NIAMEY — Niger’s ousted prime minister on Saturday clung to the dimming hope that last week’s military coup could be overturned by diplomacy, he told Reuters on the eve of a deadline set by regional powers to reinstate the elected government.
Niger’s military takeover, the seventh in West and Central Africa in three years, has rocked the western Sahel region, one of the poorest in the world, which has strategic significance to global powers.
Defence chiefs from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have drawn up a plan for military action if the coup leaders do not reinstate elected President Mohamed Bazoum, currently being held by the military at his residence in Niamey, by Sunday.
Their pledge has raised the specter of further conflict in a region that is already battling a deadly Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands and forced millions to flee.
Still, as the deadline loomed, Bazoum’s Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou believed a last-minute intervention was possible, he said in an interview in Paris.
“We are still hopeful,” said Mahamadou, who was in Rome when the coup occurred. “We expect President Bazoum to be released, reinstated, and all institutions that were allegedly dissolved to be restored in their entirety.”
France said on Saturday it will support efforts to overturn the coup, without specifying whether its backing would entail military assistance for an ECOWAS intervention.
But 59-year-old coup leader General Abdourahamane Tiani, who received some of his military training in France, said the junta will not back down.
Meanwhile ECOWAS’ options, which range from a ground invasion to aiding a homegrown counter-coup, all risk stoking insecurity.
Mahamadou said that he was in contact with Bazoum, but questioned how the ousted president, who two weeks ago was residing unhindered in a palace, was being treated.
“He is doing well as a political prisoner, sequestered, without water, without electricity, can do,” he said, adding that ECOWAS intervention could be the only way to change that.
“The security of the president is a matter that is in the hands of ECOWAS,” he said.
ECOWAS has taken a tough stance on the takeover. Given its uranium and oil riches and pivotal role in the war with the militants, Niger holds importance for the U.S., China, Europe and Russia.
Under the intervention plan, the decision of when and whereto strike will be made by heads of state, said Abdel-Fatau Musah, ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs, peace and security.
He did not give a timeline for intervention, or say what the plan would entail.
“All the elements that will go into any eventual intervention have been worked out here, including the resources needed, the how and when we are going deploy the force,” he said at the close of a three-day meeting in Nigeria’s capital Abuja on Friday.
ECOWAS may face resistance. Niger’s neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso, where military juntas have also seized power in recent years, said they would support Niger in the event of military intervention.
Mahamadou shrugged off the threat from Niger’s neighbors, whose underequipped armies are struggling to contain violent Islamist insurgencies of their own.
“To go to Niger, they have to cross the jihadist groups that they have not succeeded in fighting. So for us, it’s an empty threat,” he said.