Niger’s military has accused France of gathering forces and equipment in several West African countries with a view to launching a “military intervention” against Niamey.
Colonel Amadou Abdramane, a spokesman for Niger’s coup leaders, made the claim on national television late on Saturday.
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He said France was continuing to deploy its forces in member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as “part of preparations for an aggression against Niger, which it is planning in collaboration with this community organisation”.
French “military cargo aircraft have enabled large quantities of war material and equipment to be unloaded in Senegal, Ivory Coast and Benin, to name but a few”, he said.
The claim came as tensions between Niger and France – its former colonial power – rise in the wake of a military coup on July 26.
Paris has stood by deposed President Mohamed Bazoum and rejected Niger’s demands to remove its troops and envoy from the Sahel state.
Niger is also embroiled in a standoff with the ECOWAS bloc, which has threatened to intervene militarily if diplomatic pressure to return Bazoum to office fails.
In Niamey, meanwhile, thousands of people have been holding near-daily demonstrations around a military base housing French soldiers to demand their departure. France has about 1,500 soldiers in the country as part of a wider fight against al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) linked groups.
Amid the tensions, the AFP news agency reported on Tuesday that Paris was in talks with the military over withdrawing “elements” of its presence in Niger. It cited a French defence ministry source.
The military-appointed Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine has also said that discussions were underway about a “very swift” departure of France’s troops.
Zeine also said on Monday that his government wanted “to maintain cooperation with a country with which we have shared a great deal” and added that he was also “hopeful” of coming to an agreement with ECOWAS.
The United States, which has about 1,100 soldiers in Niger, has begun to relocate its troops “as a precaution” from Niamey to the central city of Agadez, the US Department of Defense said this week.