The United States has ordered all non-emergency government personnel to temporarily evacuate its embassy in Niger, as the country weathers the aftershocks of a July coup.
In a statement on Wednesday, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller explained that the measure was taken “out of an abundance of caution” and that the embassy itself would remain open, though only for “limited, emergency services”.
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“The United States remains committed to our relationship with the people of Niger and to Nigerien democracy,” Miller said. “We remain diplomatically engaged at the highest levels.”
The announcement follows similar moves from European countries to remove non-essential personnel from Niger.
Earlier in the day, the first of several planned military flights departed from Niger and landed in Paris, carrying 262 people on board, mostly from France and Italy.
As with those countries, the US has discouraged its citizens from making “unnecessary” travel to Niger, particularly in the capital of Niamey.
The warnings come as tensions in the region spike in the wake of Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum’s removal from power.
On July 26, members of his presidential guard took Bazoum into custody, announcing they had “put an end” to his administration.
Bazoum’s swift removal generated international outcry, including among Western countries like the US which considered him a key ally in Africa’s embattled Sahel region.
Niger alone has experienced four successful military coups since gaining independence from France, with the latest marking a fifth.
Bazoum’s inauguration in 2021 marked the first democratic transition of power since France’s colonial rule – though, in the days leading up to his swearing-in, the Nigerien government said it had foiled another attempted military coup.
In recent days, the threat of violence has escalated, as countries and intergovernmental organisations consider intervention.
On July 30, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) – a regional economic and political bloc – issued a communiqué calling Bazoum’s detention a “hostage situation” and calling for his reinstatement.
If its demands were not met within a week, ECOWAS warned, it would “take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order”, including potential “use of force”.
ECOWAS has since clarified that military intervention would only be used as a “last resort”.
But that warning prompted responses from neighbouring countries like Burkina Faso and Mali, which released a joint statement saying that “any military intervention against Niger” would be considered “a declaration of war” against them as well.
Protests have also broken out in front of the French embassy in Niger, with a fire set over the weekend to one of its entrances.
Those demonstrations have been stoked by allegations the coup leaders made that Bazoum’s government authorised the French military to attack the presidential palace, a claim France denies.
The US, meanwhile, has declined thus far to term the recent events a coup. But in Wednesday’s statement, it reaffirmed its commitment to supporting Bazoum’s government.
“The United States rejects all efforts to overturn Niger’s constitutional order, and stands with the people of Niger, the Economic Community of West African States [ECOWAS], the African Union, and other international partners in support of democratic governance and respect for the rule of law and human rights,” Miller’s statement read.