A senior US diplomat says Niger's junta has told him it will kill ousted President Mohamed Bazoum if neighboring countries attempt a military intervention to restore his power, two Western officials told The Associated Press.
They spoke to the AP shortly before the West African bloc ECOWAS said it had ordered the deployment of an "intervention force" to restore democracy in Niger after its deadline on Sunday expired to reinstate Mr. Bazoum. The threat to the ousted president is raising the stakes for both ECOWAS and the junta, which has shown a willingness to step up its actions since taking power on July 26.
Niger was seen as the last country in the Sahel region, south of the Sahara Desert, with which Western nations could partner to combat jihadist violence linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, which has killed thousands of people and displaced millions more. The international community is scrambling to find a peaceful solution to the country's leadership crisis.
Junta officials briefed US Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland on the threat to Bazoum during her visit to the country this week, a Western military official said. A US official confirmed this information, also on condition of anonymity.
Threats from both sides are aggravating tensions, but hopefully they are moving closer to a dialogue, said Aneliese Bernard, a former US State Department official specializing in African affairs and now director of Strategic Stabilization Advisors, a risk advisory group. “However, this junta has escalated its actions so rapidly that it is possible that it will do something even more extreme, as it has been the case so far,” she warned.
Nine leaders from the 15 West African member countries gathered in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on Thursday to discuss next steps. Speaking after the talks, the president of the ECOWAS commission, Omar Alieu Touray, said he could only reaffirm the decisions taken by "the military authorities of the sub-region to deploy a force of 'community intervention'.
Funding has been discussed and "appropriate action has been taken," he said. Omar Alieu Touray blamed the junta for the difficulties caused by the sanctions imposed on Niger and said that further measures would be taken jointly by the European Union. "It's not one country against another. The community has instruments that all members have subscribed to," he said.
A former British army officer who worked in Nigeria told The Associated Press that the ECOWAS declaration could be seen as the green light to start pulling together their forces with the aim of restoring constitutional order. Regarding the use of force, the officer said there was currently nothing in place other than the Nigerian forces. Without catalysts and support from other regional armies, Nigerian forces are unlikely to enter the country.
The junta cut ties with France and exploited popular grievances against the former colonial power. She also sought help from Russia's Wagner Group, which operates in a handful of African countries and has been accused of committing human rights abuses. Moscow is using Wagner and other channels of influence to discredit Western nations, says Lou Osborn, investigator of All Eyes on Wagner, a project focused on the group.
The tactics include using social media to spread rumours, mobilize protests and spread false narratives, Ms Osborn says. She cited a message posted on Telegram on Wednesday by an alleged Wagner agent, Alexander Ivanov, claiming that France had begun the "mass abduction of children" who could be used for slavery and exploitation. sexual exploitation. Neither the Russian government nor Wagner responded to AP's questions.
Meanwhile, Niger's estimated 25 million people are feeling the impact of the sanctions. Some areas of the capital, Niamey, have only limited access to electricity and power cuts are frequent throughout the city. The country receives up to 90% of its electricity from Nigeria, which has cut off part of the supply.
Since the coup, Hamidou Albade, 48, said he had been unable to operate his shop in the suburbs of Niamey because there was no electricity. He also works as a taxi driver, but he lost business because many of his foreign customers left. "It's very difficult, I stay at home doing nothing," he said. He nevertheless supports the junta. "We are suffering right now, but I know the junta will find a way out of the crisis."