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Niger's Junta Stands Firm Against Mediation as Coup Summit Nears


FILE - The defense chiefs from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries excluding Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea and Niger, pose for a group photo during their extraordinary meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, to discuss the coup in Niger.

NIAMEY — Niger's military junta refused on Tuesday a last-minute diplomatic attempt by West African countries and global powers aimed at reinstating democracy before a Thursday summit that could pave the way to military intervention.

Members from ECOWAS, the United Nations and the African Union were expected to join talks in the capital, Niamey, on Tuesday, a foreign official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media. Nevertheless, according to a letter seen by The Associated Press, the junta rejected the proposed visit.

The letter cited “evident reasons of security in this atmosphere of menace” against Niger two weeks after mutinous soldiers overthrew the country’s democratically elected leader Mohamed Bazoum.

The presidency of Nigeria and the West African bloc said late Tuesday it has not ruled out any options for resolving the crisis in Niger, even if diplomacy is the preferred solution.

"No options have been taken off of the table," President Bola Tinubu's spokesman Ajuri Ngelale told reporters in Abuja, adding that "far-reaching decisions" would be taken at the summit concerning the bloc's next steps.

Tinubu ordered new financial sanctions on Niger through Nigeria's central bank, targeting entities and individuals involved in last month's military coup, Ngelale said.

ECOWAS is expected to hold an extraordinary summit on Thursday in Abuja, Nigeria, to discuss its standoff with the Niger junta, which seized power on July 26 and ignored an Aug. 6 deadline to stand down

Coup leaders have vowed to resist external pressure to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, after ECOWAS imposed sanctions and Western allies suspended aid.

The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday funding — including programs supporting Niger's counterterrorism capabilities — ha been paused.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters the U.S. is still hopeful and trying to achieve a return to constitutional order in Niger after the military takeover late last month.

The seventh power grab in West and Central Africa in three years has attracted global attention, partly due to Niger's pivotal role in a war with Islamist militants and its uranium and oil reserves that give it economic and strategic importance for the United States, Europe, China and Russia.

"There's no doubt that diplomacy is the best way to resolve this situation," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told French radio station RFI on Tuesday.

The U.S. is backing the regional bloc's efforts to restore constitutional order, he said. He declined to comment on the future of some 1,100 U.S. troops in Niger.

In a sign of U.S. interest in the country, acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland flew to Niamey on Monday. She held "frank and difficult" talks with senior junta officials but said they did not take up U.S. suggestions for restoring democratic order.

Military action plan

The 15-nation ECOWAS bloc has taken a harder stance on the Niger coup than it did on other recent government overthrows. Its credibility is at stake because it had said that coups would no longer be tolerated.

ECOWAS defense chiefs agreed on Friday on possible military action plan if Bazoum was not released and reinstated, although they said operational decisions would be taken by heads of state.

Any use of force by ECOWAS would risk further destabilizing one of the world's poorest regions, making such an intervention unlikely, according to risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.

"The bloc understands that a military intervention would be very costly, with no guarantee of success over the long term, and with a significant risk of escalation into a regional war," its Africa analyst, Ben Hunter, said in a note.

"It is fundamentally not in the interests of regional states."

The bloc also sent a delegation to Niger last week to try to negotiate with the junta, but a source in the entourage said their efforts were rebuffed.

Information for this report came from Reuters and The Associated Press.