The only way to avoid conflict between the rebel soldiers who toppled the president in Niger and regional states that threaten to invade to restore him to office is to recognize the new regime, a human rights advocate linked to the military council told The Associated Press.
In his first interview with Western media on Friday, Insa Garba Seydou, a local activist who supports Niger’s new military rulers and says he is in direct contact with them, confirmed that there will be no dialogue with the countries of the region until they recognize the new president.
Nearly three weeks ago, mutinous soldiers led by the head of the presidential guard, Gen. Abdurrahman Chiani, ousted the West African country’s elected president, claiming they could do a better job of securing the nation from rising extremist violence linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Chiani was declared in charge of the country.
For its part, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened to use military force if President Mohamed Bazoum, who took office two years ago, was not released and reinstated. However, the military council rejected her warnings and rejected most attempts at dialogue.
“There is only one option, and that is to accept the regime or war,” Saidu said. “It’s over for Bazoum. You should forget him. It’s over. Trying to bring him back to power is a waste of time.”
Insa Garba Seydou
On Thursday, ECOWAS said it had ordered a “reserve force” to restore constitutional order in Niger after the Sunday deadline to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum expired.
It is not clear when or where the force will be deployed, but analysts say it could include up to 5,000 soldiers from countries including Nigeria, Benin, Ivory Coast and Senegal.
While ECOWAS says it wants to prioritize mediation, the various attempts it and others have made have not resulted in much development.
Last week, proposed visits by ECOWAS, the United Nations and the African Union were rejected “for reasons of security in this threat atmosphere” against Niger.
The day before, the US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, had met with some members of the military council but was unable to speak with Chiani or see Bazoum.
Junta representatives told her during the visit that Bazoum would be killed if ECOWAS invaded Niger, according to two Western military officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.
Many Western countries consider Niger one of the last democratic countries in the Sahel, the vast region south of the Sahara Desert, and they can cooperate with it to eliminate the growing terrorist threat.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into equipment and training for the Nigerien army by specialized French and American forces, which the military council can now use to tighten its grip on power.
And the military regime is already consolidating itself, appointing a new government and stoking anti-French sentiment to consolidate its support.
Hundreds demonstrated Friday outside the French military base in the capital, Niamey, chanting “Down with France” and waving Russian flags.