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French ambassador remains in Niger, defying junta's orders to leave

Meeting with his ambassadors on Monday to discuss France's diplomatic priorities, the French president condemned Niger's military junta, insisting that France was not the enemy.

Macron dismissed concerns that standing up to the junta could be dangerous.

“Our policy is the right one. It depends on the courage of President Mohamed Bazoum, the commitment of our diplomats and of our ambassador on the ground who is remaining despite pressure,” he told a gathering of French ambassadors in Paris.

Anti-French sentiment in Niger on the rise

On Friday, French Ambassador Sylvain Itte received a letter from the Nigerien foreign ministry asking him to leave the country within 48 hours. The new authorities also accused him of ignoring an invitation to a meeting with the department.

Since ousting Niger's democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, last month, the junta has been exploiting grievances among the population towards their former colonial ruler France. The French Embassy in Niamey was attacked in the early days of the coup on the 26th of July.

Before the takeover, the former French colony was seen as the West’s last major partner against Islamist violence in the Sahel region below the Sahara Desert, which is rife with anti-French sentiment.

France has about 1,500 troops in Niger supporting local forces fighting Islamic extremists. The military cooperation has been suspended since the coup, its leaders say Bazoum's government wasn't doing enough to protect the country.

The military leaders have requested help from the Russian mercenary group, Wagner. However, since the death of the group's leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, last week, the status of the request is unknown.

France has consistently acknowledged only the authority of Bazoum. He is still being detained by soldiers, who are now under sanctions by Western and regional African powers.

International sanctions on the Nigerien Junta

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) condemned the coup and threatened military action should the putschists not step down. However, they stressed they still preferred diplomacy. Along with the African Union, they have also suspended the country's membership in the bloc.

The ECOWAS Commission president, Omar Alieu Touray, said Friday that their threat to use force to reinstate Bazoum was “still on the table,” rejecting the junta’s three-year transition plan.

ECOWAS has not provided details of what a military intervention would look like. However, they said they have activated a so-called 'standby force.' The community has said it must reverse the coup in Niger to “halt the spiral of coups” in West Africa.

However, the use of military force is not unanimous within the group. Eleven of the bloc’s 15 countries, not including Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Niger itself, have expressed commitments to deploy troops to restore democracy in Niger once a decision is made to intervene.

Meanwhile, the militia allied itself with other West African nations currently led by putschists: Mali and Burkina Faso.

On the 25th of August, the junta leader, Brig. Gen. Abdrahmane Tchiani signed two executive orders authorising the “security forces of Burkina Faso and Mali to intervene on Niger territory in the event of aggression.”

The agreement between the three countries was the latest of several actions taken by Niger’s mutinous soldiers to defy sanctions and consolidate a junta they have said would rule for up to three years, further escalating the crisis after last month’s coup in the country of more than 25 million people.