Military chiefs from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will meet in Ghana on Thursday and Friday to discuss a possible military intervention in Niger, regional military and political sources say.
The meeting was called after the bloc’s leaders last week approved the deployment of a “standby force to restore constitutional order” in Niger, whose elected president was toppled by the military on July 26.
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The meeting was originally scheduled for Saturday in Accra but was postponed to this week as ECOWAS continues efforts to negotiate with the Abdourahmane Tchiani-led military government in Niamey.
The heads of state of ECOWAS convened in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, last Thursday and reaffirmed the bloc’s preference for a diplomatic outcome.
President Mohamed Bazoum’s election in 2021 was a landmark in Niger’s history, ushering in the first peaceful transfer of power since its independence from France in 1960.
His ouster unleashed a shock wave around West Africa, where Mali and Burkina Faso – which, like Niger, have been struggling to contain armed groups – have also suffered military takeovers.
ECOWAS gave Niger’s military rulers a one-week ultimatum on July 30 to restore Bazoum or face the potential use of force, but the deadline expired without action.
Analysts said military intervention would be operationally risky and politically hazardous given divisions within ECOWAS and domestic criticism.
Niger’s military government has sent mixed signals since the crisis erupted.
At the weekend, the coup leaders said they were open to a diplomatic push after Tchiani met with Nigerian religious mediators after two previous sets of mediators were refused an audience with him.
But on Sunday night, Niger’s rulers declared they had gathered sufficient evidence to prosecute Bazoum for “high treason and undermining internal and external security”.
The legal threat was angrily condemned by ECOWAS, which said it “represents yet another form of provocation and contradicts the reported willingness of the military authorities … to restore constitutional order through peaceful means”. Washington said it was “incredibly dismayed”.
The row overshadowed talks under African Union (AU) auspices that began on Monday in Addis Ababa, bringing together representatives from Niger’s military and ECOWAS.
Niger, a landlocked nation in the heart of the Sahel, is one of the world’s poorest and most turbulent countries. Bazoum, 63, survived two attempted coups before being ousted in the fifth coup in the country’s history.
His ouster deals a blow to the French and US strategy in the Sahel. France refocused its operations against armed groups in the Sahel on Niger after withdrawing from Mali and Burkina Faso last year following disagreements with their military governments.
International concern is mounting for Bazoum, his wife and son, who have been held at the president’s official residence since the coup.