“The exchange regarding the withdrawal of some military forces has begun,” said the French Defense Ministry in Paris. There were initially no details about the scope or a schedule. France currently has around 1,500 soldiers stationed in the West African country.
Paris does not recognize the new rulers
At the end of July, the Nigerien military overthrew the previous president Mohamed Bazoum. France, in line with other Western and African states, does not recognize the new rulers. At the beginning of August they canceled several defense agreements with Paris. Since then, French soldiers have stopped supporting the Nigerien armed forces.
The partial withdrawal could primarily affect soldiers who are responsible for maintaining the equipment that is no longer in use, including combat aircraft, helicopters and drones, according to the ministry.
Thousands demanded the withdrawal of French troops
Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, appointed by the military, said on Monday that the talks should lead to a withdrawal of French soldiers “very quickly.” But Niger wants to “if possible continue to work together with the country with which we have so much in common,” he said.
On Saturday, thousands of Nigeriens demonstrated in front of French bases in the country and demanded the withdrawal of French soldiers. Some of them are stationed at an air base near the capital Niamey, where the Bundeswehr also has its own flight operations area. The remaining French soldiers are stationed in Ouallam and Ayorou, near the borders with Burkina Faso and Mali.
Niamey’s relations with Paris had deteriorated noticeably after the former colonial power sided with the deposed president. Most recently, the military revoked the diplomatic immunity of the French ambassador in Niamey and ordered the police to expel the diplomat. However, France has kept its ambassador in the country for the time being.
nob/yy (afp, rtr)