Niger’s ruling junta has ordered police to expel France’s ambassador, a move marking a further downturn in relations and one that authorities in Paris said the army officers who seized power in Niamey last month had no authority to make.
The coup’s leaders are following the strategy of juntas in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso in distancing themselves from the region’s former colonial power amid a wave of anti-French sentiment.
The visas of the French ambassador to Niamey Sylvain Itte and his family have been canceled and police are instructed to expel the envoy, the junta said in a statement dated Aug. 29 and confirmed as authentic on Thursday by its communications head.
Instigators of the coup, condemned by regional African authorities and by Western nations, last Friday ordered Itte to leave the country within 48 hours in response to what they called actions by France “contrary to the interests of Niger”.
It said these included the envoy’s refusal to respond to an invitation to meet Niger’s new foreign minister.
France has called for ousted president Mohamed Bazoum to be returned to office and said it would support efforts by West African regional bloc ECOWAS to overturn the coup.
France has made Niger the cornerstone of counter-insurgency operations against an Islamist insurgency in the Sahel region that has killed thousands over the past ten years, with around 1,500 soldiers in the country who support the local military.
It redefined its strategy after thousands withdrew from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso following the coups there.
Paris has not officially recognized a decision by the junta to revoke bilateral military agreements, saying these had been signed with Niger’s “legitimate authorities.”
Similarly, the French foreign ministry said on Thursday the coup leader did not have the authority to ask the ambassador to leave, adding that it was “constantly assessing the security and operating conditions of our embassy.”
President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday the ambassador would stay in the country and reiterated France’s support for Bazoum.