As tension grows between the two countries, French President Emmanuel Macron told French publication Le Point that without France’s military operations in the Sahel “there would probably no longer be a Mali … Burkina Faso, and I’m not sure there would still be Niger.”
Macron was referring to the former colonial power’s interventions in the mid-2000s, Operations Serval and Barkhane.
French troops were moved from Mali to Niger after its military leaders cut ties with the former colonial power.
He said the interventions were done “at the request of African states” and were “successful” as his policy is facing scrutiny in the face of losing the allyship of last remaining ally, Niger, and increasing negative sentiment from Africans.
He went on to explain that while these operations reflect France’s “honour” and “responsibility”, France could no longer remain involved “when there is a coup d’état, and the priority of the new regimes is not to fight terrorism” even though this is “tragic for the states concerned”.
In the interview, Macron defended his administration’s policy in the Sahel as one of partnership rather than focusing on security.
The French military yesterday warned that it would respond swiftly should further tensions in Niger target its military and diplomatic facilities in that country following the recent coup.
French military spokesman Colonel Pierre Gaudilliere said “the French military forces are ready to respond to any upturn in tension that could harm French diplomatic and military premises in Niger.
“Measures have been taken to protect these premises,” he said.
The junta had given French Ambassador Sylvain Itte 48 hours to “leave Nigerien territory.”
Itte refused to comply and remained at his post.
The authorities thereafter withdrew his diplomatic immunities and asked the police to get him out of the country.
Nigeriens set for rallies to demand French troops exit
A coalition of Nigerien civil society groups opposed to the presence of French forces in the country yesterday launched a three-day sit-in to demand the departure of the French contingent.
There are about 1,500 such troops in Niger, who are mainly deployed to help fight the jihadist insurgency in the region.
The M62 group said the French have outlived their usefulness in their country while another group, the Patriotic Front for the Sovereignty of Niger plans to kick off its own protests today and will continue “until the departure of all French soldiers.”