France is reported to be in talks with Niger’s military about possible withdrawal of French troops from the West African nation in the wake of the fraying of ties following a coup in July, according to French media reports.
Confirming the news, former French ambassador to Mali and Senegal Nicolas Normand told Al Jazeera that according to his sources, talks were ongoing between the French and Niger militaries to “partially” withdraw troops.
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Normand said that his source, who remains anonymous, indicated the discussions should not be seen as a recognition of the coup leaders, but a “technical” discussion between the two militaries.
A defence ministry source, who asked not to be named, told AFP that discussions on the withdrawal of “certain military elements” were under way. The source did not give details.
France has been at loggerheads with Niger’s new military rulers after it refused to recognise the July 26 coup that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum – a French ally. France’s President Emmanuel Macron has continued to back Bazoum, who remains in custody.
The coup leaders have called for the French ambassador and troops to leave Niger, with thousands of people rallying for days in the capital Niamey and backing the new regime’s tough stance against the former colonial ruler.
Some 1,500 French troops are based in Niger as part of France’s wider fight against armed rebels in the Sahel region. Niger became a crucial hub for France after coups forced the withdrawal of French troops from neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso.
Anti-French protests continue
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from Niamey, said a protest was taking place on Tuesday outside the French military base, where organisers said people must not “let their guards down” until all French soldiers leave the country.
“The news of the possible withdrawal from the Niger Republic may not be as satisfying to the organisers of these rallies and protests against France,” he said.
“They have consistently insisted that every single French soldier must leave Niger,” he said, saying organisers were even putting together concerts at the base to keep the momentum going.
On August 3, the coup leaders renounced several military cooperation agreements with France, including one with a month-long notice period that expired on Sunday.
Niger’s military-appointed Prime Minister Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine said on Monday that “contacts” were under way about a “very swift” departure of French troops.
Zeine nevertheless said he hoped to “maintain cooperation if possible with a country with which we have shared many things”.
A source close to Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu told AFP on Tuesday that talks were in progress about “easing movements of French military resources” in Niger.
That source noted that French forces had been “immobilised since anti-terrorist cooperation was suspended” following the military takeover.
The French forces are mostly based at an airfield near the capital, which in recent days has been targeted by thousands of protesters calling on them to leave.
End of Francafrique?
The coup has been seen as a new major blow to French influence in the region following military takeovers in Mali in 2020 and Burkina Faso in 2022.
“The only authorities in Niger that we recognise – like the entire international community – are President Mohamed Bazoum and his government,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told the Le Monde daily newspaper on Sunday in a reaffirmation of her country’s position.
However, she emphasised that French troops were in Niger at the request of the Bazoum-led authorities to take part in “anti-terror” operations.
“Today, this mission can no longer be ensured, since we no longer have – de facto – operations carried out jointly with the Niger armed forces,” she said.
Colonna insisted, however, that the regional bloc the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), not France, was the prime player. She also echoed comments by Macron that the concept of “Francafrique”, where Paris had neocolonial ascendancy in the region, was no longer valid.