By Enyichukwu Enemanna
Burkina Faso and Mali, two West African nations where the military had forcefully taken over power in recent times, on Monday cautioned regional bloc, ECOWAS against any military intervention in Niger to restore deposed President Mohamed Bazoum, saying it would be considered a “declaration of war” against the two nations.
The “disastrous consequences of a military intervention in Niger… could destabilise the entire region”, the junta-led countries stated in a joint statement, adding that “any military intervention against Niger would be tantamount to a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali”.
The warning from Niger’s neighbours came a day after the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) backed by their Western partners converged in Abuja, Nigeria, from where they threatened to use “force” to reinstate the democratically elected Bazoum.
They also vowed to slam economic sanctions on Niger, as well as declare the Sahel nation no-flight zone, in addition to border closure.
The two countries also said they “refuse to apply” the “illegal, illegitimate and inhumane sanctions against the people and authorities of Niger”.
Pressure to push the perpetrators of the July 26 coup to quickly restore constitutional order is building from Western and African partners in Niger, a country considered essential in the fight against jihadist groups that have ravaged parts of the Sahel region for years.
Former colonial power France and the United States have between them deployed 2,600 soldiers in Niger to help battle the jihadists.
Niger’s junta on Monday accused France of seeking to “intervene militarily” to reinstate Bazoum, which French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna denied.
“It’s wrong,” Colonna told France’s BFM news channel of the allegation, adding it was still “possible” to return the president to power.
“And it’s necessary, because destabilisation is perilous for Niger and its neighbours,” she said Monday evening.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday vowed “immediate and uncompromising” action if French citizens or interests were attacked, after thousands rallied outside the French embassy in Niamey. Some tried to enter the compound but were dispersed by tear gas.
Colonna said the demonstration had been “organised, not spontaneous, violent, extremely dangerous, with Molotov cocktails, Russian flags appeared, anti-French slogans (that were) an exact copy of what you can hear elsewhere”.
Russia has called for the swift return of “the rule of law” and “restraint from all parties” in Niger.
Macron has spoken to Bazoum several times as well as to regional leaders, the presidential palace in Paris said.
Guards chief General Abdourahamane Tiani declared himself leader — but his claim has been rejected internationally and ECOWAS has given him a week to hand back power.