Niger military rulers order UN official out within 72 hours

AFP , Wednesday 11 Oct 2023

Niger's post-coup military regime has ordered the United Nations coordinator in the country to leave within 72 hours, blaming "obstacles" by the world body to its international recognition.

A French Army military vehicle belonging to a convoy of French troops is seen crossing the Lazaret d
A French Army military vehicle belonging to a convoy of French troops is seen crossing the Lazaret district in Niamey on October 10, 2023. AFP


It comes a day after the United States cut off more than $500 million in assistance to Niger and as France begins withdrawing troops after they were also ordered out.

The Nigerien foreign ministry said in a statement, seen by AFP on Wednesday but dated Tuesday, that the government was expelling Louise Aubin, the UN's resident and humanitarian coordinator, "to take all necessary measures to leave Niamey within 72 hours".

Aubin, a Canadian, was appointed to the job in January 2021.

The regime pointed to "obstacles" which it said were presented by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres "with a view to thwarting the full and complete participation of Niger" at last month's UN General Assembly in New York.

The military regime has already criticised "the perfidious actions" of the UN chief, saying they were "likely to undermine any effort to end the crisis in our country".

Bakary Yaou Sangare, who before the coup was Niger's ambassador to the UN and is now its foreign minister, was the new leaders' chosen representative for the assembly.

But, according to a diplomatic source, there was also an application by the overthrown government to represent Niamey.

Because of the competing credentials, the matter was deferred and no representative from Niger was added to the speakers' list.

Sangare did not address the General Assembly.

In December, neighbouring Burkina Faso, whose ruling junta also came to power in a coup, expelled the UN's coordinator in the country.

It said Italian diplomat Barbara Manzi's decision to "unilaterally" withdraw non-essential UN staff from the capital Ouagadougou justified the move.

French troops withdraw

Niger's military regime said on Tuesday it escorted the first convoy of French soldiers from their base in the western town of Ouallam headed towards Chad.

Chad's capital N'Djamena is 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) from Niamey and is the base for French forces in the Sahel command.

Around 1,000 French troops were stationed in Niamey, with another 400 deployed at two forward bases in the northwest, near Mali and Burkina Faso, a hotbed of insurgent activity.

In addition to the departure by land, "three special flights" have been registered at the airport in Niamey, two for the departure of "97 special forces elements" and one "dedicated to logistics", Niger's new rulers said in a statement on national television.

The regime, which has assured the withdrawal would happen with "complete safety", said the disengagement would continue on "a timetable agreed to by both parties".

It is the third time in 18 months that French troops have been sent packing by a former African colony, dealing a severe blow to France's influence on the continent and prestige on the international stage.

France's ambassador to Niger was also given his marching orders by the leaders of the coup that toppled the French-backed president on July 26.

The United States on Tuesday declared that Niger's ousting of a democratic government -- seen as a key bulwark against Russia -- had been a coup.

"Any resumption of US assistance will require action... to usher in democratic governance in a quick and credible timeframe," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

The United States, along with West African nations and former colonial power France, had been pressing the military to restore President Mohamed Bazoum.

Washington is keeping about 1,000 military personnel in Niger, but they are no longer actively training or assisting Niger forces, another US official said.

They will continue to work to monitor threats from jihadists.

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