Niger junta accuses France of deploying troops for possible intervention
PHOTO CAPTION: A French soldier is seen during a simulated raid during Exercise Raven, May 22, 2023. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Henry Rodriguez via U.S. Defense Visual Information Distribution Service)
NIAMEY/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Niger's junta on Sunday accused France of deploying troops in several West African countries as part of preparations for a possible military intervention together with the regional bloc ECOWAS in Niger.
In a communique read on state television overnight, the junta also repeated its call for the departure of French troops from its territory - a major source of tension between the one-time allies since the July 26 ouster of president Mohamed Bazoum.
The statement appealed to "national and international opinion to witness the consequences of this aggressive, underhanded and contemptuous attitude adopted by France."
Relations between Niger and its former coloniser France have soured since Paris declared the junta illegitimate. Amid a wave of anti-French sentiment, the coup's leaders have also followed the strategy of juntas in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso in seeking to end long-standing military ties with France in the regionwide fight against Islamist insurgencies.
Asked about the junta's latest comments, French President Emmanuel Macron said "we do not recognise any legitimacy in the statements of the putschists."
Regarding the some 1,500 French troops stationed in Niger, Macron said any decision about their deployment would only be made in coordination with Bazoum.
"If we ever redeploy... I would do so only at the request of President Bazoum," Macron told a news conference at the close of a two-day summit of G20 leaders in India.
He did not directly address the allegation that France was deploying troops elsewhere in West Africa as part of a regional proposal to use force as a last resort to restore democracy.
The main regional bloc ECOWAS has slapped sanctions on Niger and activated a so-called standby force for the possible military intervention, although talks are ongoing to find a diplomatic solution.
Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu, who holds ECOWAS' revolving chairmanship, has suggested that a nine-month transition back to civilian rule could satisfy regional powers. Niger's junta has previously proposed a three-year timeline.
(Reporting by Abdel-Kader Mazou and Michel Rose, Dominique Vidalon; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Hugh Lawson)