Accra – West African military chiefs held a second day of talks in Ghana on Friday, preparing for a possible armed intervention in Niger after a coup there ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.
The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) has agreed to activate a “standby force” as a last resort to restore democracy in Niger after generals toppled and detained Bazoum last month.
ECOWAS defence chiefs were meeting in the Ghanaian capital Accra to fine tune details of the potential military operation to restore Bazoum if ongoing negotiations with coup leaders fail.
“Let no one be in doubt that if everything else fails the valiant forces of West Africa, both the military and the civilian components, are ready to answer to the call of duty,” Abdel-Fatau Musah, an ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs and security, told the meeting on Thursday.
“Meanwhile, we are still giving diplomacy a chance and the ball is in the court of the junta.”
The two-day Accra meeting will conclude on Friday when the defence chiefs are expected to announce any next steps at a closing ceremony at 1600 GMT.
Bazoum, whose 2021 election was a landmark in Niger’s troubled history, has been held with his family at the president’s official residence since the July 26 coup, with growing international concern over his conditions in detention.
ECOWAS chair and Nigerian President Bola Tinubu threatened Niamey with “grave consequences” if the new regime allows Bazoum’s health to worsen under house arrest, an EU official said Friday.
During a call to EU chief Charles Michel, Tinabu noted: “President Bazoum’s detention conditions are deteriorating.”
“Any further deterioration to his well-being status will have grave consequences.”
Michel had renewed the European Union’s “full support and backing of Ecowas’ decisions, as well as firm condemnation of the unacceptable coup de force in Niger”.
Ecowas leaders say they have to act after Niger became the fourth West Africa nation since 2020 to suffer a coup, following Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea.
The Sahel region is struggling with growing jihadist insurgencies linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State and frustration over the violence has in part prompted the military takeovers.
Details of the Niger operation have not been released and analysts say any intervention would be politically and militarily risky, especially for regional player Nigeria.
Nigeria is already struggling to contain violence from several armed groups at home, and leaders in the country’s north have warned about spillover from Niger across the border if there is an intervention.
Ecowas troops have intervened in other emergencies since 1990, including civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Ivory Coast, Benin and Nigeria are expected to contribute troops to a Niger mission.
Niger’s coup leaders have warned against any military strikes and defiantly threatened to charge Bazoum with treason. But they have also said they are open to talks.
The military-ruled governments in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso have also said an intervention in Niger would be seen as a declaration of war against them.
Russia and the United States have urged a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
Ecowas has already applied trade and financial sanctions on Niger while France, Germany and the United States have suspended aid programmes.
Germany’s foreign ministry has also said it wants the EU to impose sanctions on the coup leaders, saying that Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had held talks with her French and US counterparts.
UN rights chief Volker Turk slammed the generals who seized power on “a whim” plunging Niger further into misery and stranding thousands of migrants
“The very notion of freedoms in Niger is at stake,” he said in a statement. “Rule-by-gun has no place in today’s world.”
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