France violated Nigerien airspace – military rulers
Niger’s military government has accused France of violating its airspace and setting dangerous terrorists loose as part of a wider plot to undermine the country’s new rulers. Paris has denied any involvement with terrorists and insisted that it legally flew a military plane into the country.
In a statement on national television on Wednesday, army officer Amadou Abdramane alleged that a French military aircraft had illegally entered Nigerien airspace, which has been closed by the coup leaders since Sunday. Abdramane also accused French forces of springing more than a dozen terrorists from jail to stage an assault on a military camp earlier that day.
“What we are seeing is a plan to destabilize our country,” Abdramane declared.
The French Foreign Ministry called Abdramane’s claims “unfounded.” In a statement, the ministry said that no terrorists had been freed, no attack against a Nigerien camp had taken place, and the French military aircraft entered Nigerien airspace under an agreement with the country’s previous government.
Niger’s military government seized power last month, ousting and detaining the Western-backed president, Mohamed Bazoum. Under the leadership of General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the new authorities proceeded to suspend a host of military and trade agreements with France and secure promises of military support from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso.
Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso are now all led by military governments that came to power amid popular discontent with France’s decade-long counterinsurgency operation in the Sahel region. While French troops have left Mali and Burkina Faso, Paris maintains a contingent of around 1,500 soldiers in Niger, while the US’ largest drone base is located in the country.
Niger’s new rulers have been threatened with military action by the Nigeria-led Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), although the regional bloc did not act when the generals ignored its ultimatum to restore Bazoum to power on Sunday. The US and EU have cut off foreign aid to Niger, with Brussels reportedly working on sanctions as of Wednesday.
Despite its ultimatum passing unheeded, ECOWAS is still considering intervening, French radio broadcaster RFI reported on Tuesday. Nigeria is willing to contribute more than half of the forces needed for such an operation, RFI stated.
The coup leaders have warned that any military intervention from either the West or ECOWAS will be met with deadly force.