The Niger junta closes airspace and accuses neighbouring countries of planning an invasion as the deadline passes. Niger’s rebel troops have closed the country’s airspace and accused foreign powers of preparing an attack, as the junta defied a deadline to restore the ousted president and said the country was overrun.
The West African regional bloc ECOWAS has warned of using military force if democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum is not returned to power. Niger’s airspace will remain closed until further notice and international airlines have begun diverting flights around the country’s airspace.
In Mali, the armed forces and Niger’s neighbouring Burkina Faso are sending a delegation of officers to show support. Both countries have stated that any intervention in Niger is a “declaration of war” against them. Regional tensions have risen since Niger’s coup about two weeks ago, in which rebel troops took Bazoum into custody and installed General Abdurrahman Tchiani, former head of the presidential guard, as head of state.
It was not immediately clear what ECOWAS would do now that Sunday’s deadline has passed. The field is divided in the direction of action. There was no sign of a build-up of military forces at Niger’s border with Nigeria, a possible point of entry by land route. Nigeria’s Senate withdrew the invasion plan on Saturday, urging Nigeria’s president, the current chairman of the bloc, to explore options other than the use of force. ECOWAS can still go ahead, as consensus by member states make final decisions.
The junta appears not interested in talks. An ECOWAS delegation sent to Niger for hours of talks last week was not allowed to leave the airport and met only with Tchiani’s representatives. At a rally on Sunday, thousands cheered on junta leaders who said their loyalty would not be betrayed.
The junta has been exploiting anti-French sentiment among the population to consolidate its support base. It has severed security ties with France, which still has 1,500 military personnel in Niger for counter-terrorism efforts. On Monday, the French Foreign Ministry formally discouraged any travel to Niger, Burkina Faso, or Mali and called on French citizens to be extremely cautious.
Niger’s junta has also sought help from the Russian mercenary group Wagner, which operates in a handful of African countries, including Mali. Many people, mostly young people, have rallied on the side of the junta and taken to the streets to patrol at night.