France said it backs efforts by members of an African regional bloc to thwart the coup in Niger, as the clock ticks closer to a deadline for the new military junta to stand down or face possible military intervention.
“The future of Niger and the stability of the entire region are at stake,” the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
On Sunday, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) gave the coup leaders one week to release and reinstate the country’s democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum. Should the junta remain in charge, the group said it would “take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order,” including using force.
ECOWAS defense chiefs met in Nigeria this week to organize a collective response to the coup and plan a potential military response, which they say is a last resort.
“All the elements that would go into any eventual intervention have been worked out here and [are] being refined, including the timing, including the resources needed, and including how and where and when we are going to deploy such a force,” said ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Abdel-Fatau Musah.
“We are determined to stop it, but ECOWAS is not going to tell the coup plotters when and where we are going to strike. That is an operational decision that would be taken by the heads of state who are going to be like the commanders in chief of this operation.”
A delegation from the bloc traveled to Niamey, Niger’s capital, to meet with coup leaders Thursday. Hours later, the junta warned on state television that any military intervention would be met with “an immediate and unannounced response by Niger’s defense and security forces.”
France is Niger’s former colonial power and its intervention will not be welcomed everywhere in Niger, where pro-coup protesters have voiced anti-French sentiment.
Niger’s democratic neighbors and Western partners prior to the putsch, including France and the United States, have expressed concern that the country’s return to military rule could have broader consequences for fragile democracies in the region and in the fight against Islamist insurgencies throughout the Sahel.
Writing in The Washington Post “as a hostage,” Bazoum said that Niger was “under attack from a military junta that is trying to overthrow our democracy.”
“In Africa’s troubled Sahel region, Niger stands as the last bastion of respect for human rights amid the authoritarian movements that have overtaken some of our neighbors,” he wrote. “While this coup attempt is a tragedy for Nigeriens, its success would have devastating consequences far beyond our borders.”