July 22, 2024

Niger’s military leaders had told Sylvain Itte to leave the country after they overthrew democratically-elected President Mohamed Bazoum.

France’s ambassador to Niger has landed in Paris after weeks of tensions with the new military government in the West African country that demanded his expulsion following the overthrow of democratically-elected leader President Mohamed Bazoum.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna met Sylvain Itte “to thank him and his teams for his work in the service of our country under difficult conditions”, the ministry said in a written statement to AFP news agency.

Itte left Niamey with six colleagues “around 4am” (03:00 GMT), a diplomatic source had earlier told AFP.

On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron had announced in a TV interview that the ambassador would leave “in the coming hours”.

Niger’s military leaders – who had told Itte to leave the country after they overthrew Bazoum on July 26 and took away the envoy’s diplomatic immunity and visa – welcomed the announcement.

However, despite a 48-hour ultimatum for him to go back to France that was issued in August, he remained as Paris refused to comply or recognise the new military leaders. Paris had said that only Bazoum’s deposed government could order the envoy out.

Earlier this month, Macron said Itte was living like a hostage in the French embassy and accused military rulers of blocking food deliveries to the mission.

Born in the Malian capital Bamako in 1959, Itte had been in the post as ambassador to Niger for a year. He was previously ambassador to Uruguay and Angola.

‘Return to constitutional order’

Separately on Wednesday, Macron’s office reiterated France’s support for ousted President Bazoum.

He had told Hassoumi Massaoudou, foreign minister in the overthrown government, that France would continue to work “for a return to the constitutional order in Niger”, the Elysee Palace said.

Macron in a TV interview on Sunday – in addition to announcing Ambassador Itte would depart – said French troops would withdraw from Niger in “the months and weeks to come” with a full pullout “by the end of the year”, another demand of the Niger regime.

In the interview, the French president also said military cooperation between the two nations was “over”.

In Niamey, thousands of people have been holding near-daily demonstrations around a military base housing French soldiers to demand their departure. France has about 1,500 soldiers in the country as part of a wider fight against groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS).

The coup against Bazoum was the third such coup in the region in as many years, following similar actions in fellow former French colonies Mali and Burkina Faso in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

The earlier coups also forced the pullouts of French troops.

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