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Niger military rulers order UN official out within 72 hours

Niger’s military leaders have ordered the United Nations coordinator to leave the country within 72 hours.

French troops will begin pulling out of Niger this week after weeks of tensions with its post-coup military leaders
French troops will begin pulling out of Niger this week after weeks of tensions with its post-coup military leaders - Copyright AFP/File -
French troops will begin pulling out of Niger this week after weeks of tensions with its post-coup military leaders - Copyright AFP/File -

Niger’s military leaders have ordered the United Nations coordinator to leave the country within 72 hours, blaming the world body for hindering international recognition of the post-coup regime.

The expulsion order comes a day after the United States cut off more than $500 million in assistance to Niger and as France begins withdrawing its troops after they were also ordered out.

The Nigerien foreign ministry said in a statement, seen by AFP on Wednesday but dated Tuesday, that the government was expelling Louise Aubin, the UN’s resident and humanitarian coordinator, instructing her “to take all necessary measures to leave Niamey within 72 hours”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres deeply regretted the order, his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said, confirming that Aubin had been given 72 hours to leave.

Dujarric said the decision would disrupt the world body’s work in Niger, but reiterated “the unwavering commitment of the UN to stay and deliver for the people in Niger through continued humanitarian operations”.

Aubin, a Canadian, was appointed to the job in January 2021.

– ‘Obstacles’ –

At last month’s UN General Assembly in New York, Niger’s military leaders said “obstacles” had prevented their “full and complete participation” in the meeting.

Bakary Yaou Sangare, who before the coup was Niger’s ambassador to the UN and is now its foreign minister, was the new leaders’ chosen representative for the assembly.

Niger: French forces begin withdrawal

Niger: French forces begin withdrawal – Copyright AFP Sylvie HUSSON, Paz PIZARRO

But, according to a diplomatic source, there was also an application by the ousted government to represent Niamey.

Because of the competing credentials, the matter was deferred and no representative from Niger was added to the speakers’ list.

Sangare did not address the General Assembly.

Previously, Niger’s coup leaders had said “the perfidious actions” of the UN chief were “likely to undermine any effort to end the crisis in our country”.

In December, neighbouring Burkina Faso expelled its own UN coordinator, with the military leaders there taking issue with the UN’s decision to withdraw non-essential staff from the capital.

– French troops withdraw –

Separately, Niger’s military regime said it had escorted the first convoy of French soldiers from their base in the western town of Ouallam headed towards Chad.

According to a report on Niger’s national television on Wednesday evening, “a total of 116 French soldiers and equipment left Niamey for N’Djamena in Chad” on Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday, a plane with “a first contingent of 49 soldiers” took off from Niamey, reported Téle Sahel.

The following day, there were reportedly three flights from Niamey, and on Wednesday another plane took off with 14 soldiers aboard.

The evacuations were said to have been carried out by A400M military transport aircraft travelling from Niamey’s Diori Hamani airport to Chad’s capital N’Djamena.

N’Djaména, about 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) from Niamey, is the base for French forces in the Sahel command.

Around 1,000 French troops were stationed in Niamey, with another 400 deployed at two forward bases in the northwest, near Mali and Burkina Faso, an area known as a hotbed of insurgent activity.

Niger’s military leaders, who ordered the troops’ withdrawal and assured the operation would happen with “complete safety”, said the disengagement would continue on “a timetable agreed to by both parties”.

– Sent packing –

It is the third time in 18 months that French troops have been sent packing by a former African colony, dealing a severe blow to France’s influence on the continent and prestige on the international stage.

France’s ambassador to Niger was also given his marching orders by the soldiers who toppled the French-backed president on July 26.

The United States formally acknowledged on Tuesday that Niger’s ousting of democratically elected president Mohamed Bazoum had been a military coup d’etat.

“Any resumption of US assistance will require action… to usher in democratic governance in a quick and credible timeframe,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

The United States, along with West African nations and former colonial power France, has pressed the military to restore Bazoum.

Washington is keeping about 1,000 military personnel in Niger, but is no longer actively training or assisting Niger forces, another US official said.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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