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France Declared That It Won’t Let The Nigerien Junta Kick It Out Of The Country
France’s preemptive refusal to withdraw from Niger if the junta demands that it do so on the pretext that they’re illegitimate putschists contrasts with its compliance with Mali’s and Burkina Faso’s earlier such demands that were made by their own military-led interim governments.
Speculation is swirling about whether Niger’s patriotic military junta will follow its reported ban on uranium and gold exports to France with a demand for that country’s troops to leave the country after the example that was recently set by the de facto Burkinabe-Malian federation. That would be a risky move to make, however, since France just declared that it won’t take orders from them. Here’s what PBS reported about this on Thursday:
“Even if Niger’s military rulers demand the withdrawal of French troops — as happened in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso — it wouldn’t make a difference, said Anne-Claire Legendre, a spokesperson for the French foreign minister during a press briefing on Wednesday. ‘We don’t answer to the putschists. We recognize one constitutional order and one legitimacy only, that of President Bazoum,’ she said.”
Considering this, the junta would either discredit itself by making a major demand that France confirmed it will defy or risk being ousted from power by its former colonizer in the event that it tries to impose its will, both scenarios of which aren’t in their objective interests. French President Emmanuel Macron warned last week that “The President will not tolerate any attack against France and its interests”, hence the reason to expect it to resolutely respond in the second-mentioned scenario.
Nevertheless, not directly addressing the issue of French troops in Niger will likely prove impossible for the junta since these forces will eventually require supplies once their existing ones at their air base in the capital start running low, which will lead to them breaking the closed border regime unless it’s lifted before then. They already did so on at least one occasion so far as admitted by the junta shortly after they seized power and issued that decree, but repeated violations would prompt a dilemma.
On the one hand, letting them flout this rule would deprive Paris of the pretext that it might be trying to provoke for directly attacking the junta in the unlikely event that the planned NATO-backed Nigerian-led ECOWAS invasion of Niger is called off, but its new military rulers would be discredited. On the other hand, while firing on them would be a strong reaffirmation of Niger’s sovereignty, it would also almost certainly lead to an overwhelming French response that could escalate to a Libyan-like regime change.
Unlike in Syria where the US’ military forces are based in far-flung but still strategically positioned parts of the country, France’s military forces in Niger are located in the capital, which means that they can’t be ignored. The junta also recently accused them of plotting airstrikes on the presidential palace in order to free ousted President Mohamed Bazoum who’s being held there, thus making their continued presence a potentially imminent threat to national security.
France’s preemptive refusal to withdraw from Niger if the junta demands that it do so on the pretext that they’re illegitimate putschists contrasts with its compliance with Mali’s and Burkina Faso’s earlier such demands that were made by their own military-led interim governments. This suggests that France has decided to draw a line in the sand signaling that it’ll fight to preserve its last regional bastion, which bodes ill for the future of the Nigerien junta.