PARIS (AP) — President Emmanuel Macron announced Sunday that France will end its military presence in Niger and pull its ambassador out of the country after its democratically elected president was deposed in a coup.
The announcement is a significant, if predicted, blow to France’s policy in Africa, after French troops pulled out of neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso in recent years after coups there. France had stationed thousands of troops in the region at the request of African leaders to fight jihadist groups.
France has maintained some 1,500 troops in Niger since the July coup, and had repeatedly refused an order by the new junta for its ambassador to leave, saying that France didn’t recognize the coup leaders as legitimate.
Tensions between France and Niger, a former French colony, have mounted in recent weeks, and Macron said recently that diplomats were surviving on military rations as they holed up in the embassy.
In an interview with France-2 television, Macron said that he spoke Sunday to ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, and told him that “France has decided to bring back its ambassador, and in the coming hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France.”
He added, “And we will put an end to our military cooperation with the Niger authorities.” He said the troops would be gradually pulled out, likely by the end of the year.
He noted that France’s military presence in Niger was in response to a request from Niger’s government at the time.
The military cooperation between France and Niger had been suspended since the coup. The junta leaders claimed that Bazoum’s government wasn’t doing enough to protect the country from the insurgency.
The junta in August gave French Ambassador Sylvain Itte 48 hours to leave. After the deadline expired without France recalling him, the coup leaders then revoked his diplomatic immunity.
The junta is now under sanctions by Western and regional African powers.
In New York on Friday, the military government that seized power in Niger accused U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of “obstructing” the West African nation’s full participation at the U.N.’s annual meeting of world leaders in order to appease France and its allies.