West African army commanders will gather in the next days to discuss Niger plans – spokesman
A spokesperson for the regional bloc said on Friday that West African army leaders will convene in the coming days to make preparations for a potential military intervention in Niger as concern increased over the treatment of deposed President Mohamed Bazoum in jail.
Two weeks after Bazoum was overthrown by generals in the sixth coup to take place in West and Central Africa in the past three years, the ECOWAS bloc ordered the deployment of a standby force on Thursday.
The chiefs of staff conference suggests that West African countries are speeding up their preparations to commit soldiers for a potential action to overthrow the coup.
The ECOWAS spokeswoman stated that one meeting is scheduled for next week. The conference would take place on Saturday in Ghana, according to a Nigerian official and an army source from the Ivory Coast.
The size of the force, the time it will take to organize, and whether it will actually invade are all unknowns at this time.
The proposed mission has nonetheless raised the threat of escalating war in a strategically significant region where Western countries have lost influence due to a wave of coups and where Russian influence seems to be growing.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) declared that all possibilities were on the table and that it still hoped for a peaceful resolution to the Niger conflict.
Security experts predicted that it might take weeks or longer to create an ECOWAS force, possibly allowing time for negotiations.
The only nation to date to provide a troop deployment estimate is Ivory Coast. A battalion of 850 soldiers was offered on Thursday by President Alassane Ouattara.
The army of Benin would contribute troops, an army spokeswoman announced on Friday, without specifying how many. Last Monday, Senegal declared that, in the event of military intervention, it would provide troops.
Most of the other ECOWAS nations, including regional powerhouse Nigeria, which is now in office as president of the organization, have so far refrained from commenting.
Sering Modou Njie, the defense minister of the Gambia, and Ledgerhood Rennie, the minister of information of Liberia, both told Reuters on Friday that no decision had yet been made about the dispatch of troops.
Military regimes in ECOWAS members Burkina Faso and neighboring Mali have declared their support for the junta in Niger.
Despite making no signs that it could cede power, the junta has yet to respond to ECOWAS’ decision.
Meanwhile, the African Union, the European Union and the United States all said they were increasingly worried about Bazoum’s detention conditions.
The African Union called on the international community to rally to “save the moral and physical integrity of” Bazoum and end what it called the “worryingly poor conditions” of his detention.
Human Rights Watch said it had spoken to Bazoum this week and that he had told them that his family’s treatment in custody was “inhuman and cruel”.
“My son is sick, has a serious heart condition, and needs to see a doctor,” HRW quoted Bazoum as telling them.
Bazoum’s daughter Zazia Bazoum, who is in France, told Britain’s Guardian newspaper the junta was keeping him in deplorable conditions to try to pressure him to sign a resignation letter. Reuters could not independently confirm the conditions of his detention.
The coup in the uranium-rich nation of Niger, one of the world’s poorest nations but a crucial partner of the West in the war against Islamist extremists in the Sahel region, was brought on by domestic politics but has effects that extend far beyond its boundaries.
To combat local al Qaeda and Islamic State branches, U.S., French, German, and Italian forces are stationed in Niger.
Although Niamey’s city was peaceful on Friday morning, the fear of military action incited resentment among the populace.
“I’m not afraid deep down inside; I’m going about my business.” “I think ECOWAS’ decisions are just blackmail,” Balla Souleymane remarked of the organization’s decisions.
Since the coup, many Nigeriens have attended junta-organized protests in support of the generals, criticizing Western powers and praising Russia, mimicking reactions in Mali and Burkina Faso, where military juntas booted out French forces after seizing control.
Protests have erupted in Niamey against the erstwhile colonial power France’s embassy.
France stated that it completely supports all of the conclusions reached at the ECOWAS emergency conference on Thursday. However, it avoided providing any concrete support for any future involvement.