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West Africa: Niger Military Junta Agrees to Dialogue With ECOWAS

Niger’s new military ruler said Saturday a transition of power would not go beyond three years, and warned that any attack on the country would not be easy for those involved.

“Our ambition is not to confiscate power,” General Abdourahamane Tchiani said in a televised address, adding that an attack on Niger would not be “a walk in the park”.

His warning came a day after ECOWAS declared its readiness for armed intervention to restore democratic order in Niger.

In a 12-minute televised speech, Tchiani announced the launch of a “national dialogue” which has 30 days to formulate “concrete proposals” to lay “the foundations of a new constitutional life”.

The announcement came after an ECOWAS delegation arrived in Niamey earlier Saturday for talks to try to defuse the political crisis in Niger.

The ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs on Saturday confirmed the dispatch of a mission to Niger’s capital Niamey to engage with coup leaders, saying the military administration led by Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani agreed to hold dialogue.

“Finally, they tell us they are receiving the mission today and we have taken up their offer,” Abdel-Fatau Musa told TV3 Ghana.

The move follows two ECOWAS unsuccessful missions to Niger since the removal of Mohamed Bazoum, the president who was deposed in a July 26 coup.

The first mission, led by former Nigerian head of state Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar and Sultan of Sokoto Sa’adu Abubakar, was confined to Niamey’s airport, while the second mission, comprising delegates from the West African bloc, the African Union, and the UN, was denied entry.

According to Anadolu Agency, Dr Musa expressed optimism about the new willingness for dialogue, but reiterated the 15-member group’s commitment to reinstating Bazoum and restoring constitutional order.

He said discussions would be closely monitored and the military option would be contemplated if dialogue fails. “We will see how discussions unfold. If we realize that discussions are going nowhere, I can assure you that we are not going to engage in endless dialogue [or] the dialogue of the deaf,” he asserted.

The official dismissed allegations that ECOWAS was leaning towards war, emphasizing that Niger’s military administration, also known as the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, was accountable for the current impasse. “We are not the ones shutting the door on them. It is rather they shut the door on us,” he said.

Musa has been in Ghana since Thursday and was present at the two-day extraordinary meeting of the ECOWAS military chiefs, which concluded on Friday, with military leaders declaring readiness for potential intervention in Niger.

ECOWAS on Aug. 10 had ordered the activation of its standby force to restore constitutional order in the coup-hit country.

Meanwhile, the ECOWAS delegation in Niger on Saturday met with ousted President Mohamed Bazoum in the presence of the military-appointed prime minister, Ali Zeine, and a member of the junta, according to FRANCE 24’s correspondent. The meeting came hours after the delegation arrived in Niger’s capital Niamey in a fresh bid to defuse the crisis that has gripped the country since a July 26 coup.

Supporters of Niger’s junta were forced on Saturday to halt a census of people willing to volunteer for non-military roles in defence against a possible intervention by West African powers, saying they had been overwhelmed by the numbers who turned up.

Thousands of mostly young men had massed outside a stadium in the capital Niamey hours before the scheduled start-time of the event – a sign of the strong support in some quarters for the junta, which has defied international pressure to stand down after the July 26 ouster of President Mohamed Bazoum.

“In all our calculations and our understandings, we never thought we could mobilize (this number of people),” said Younoussa Hima, co-organiser of the initiative dubbed “The Mobilisation of Young People for the Fatherland.”

“So it is really difficult for us today to do this work. That is what made us halt this census,” Hima said by the stadium after the crowds dispersed.

West Africa’s main regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), on Friday said it had agreed an undisclosed “D-Day” for a possible military intervention if diplomatic efforts fail – an escalation that could further destabilise a conflict-torn and impoverished region.

Organisers of the Niamey recruitment drive said they did not intend to sign up volunteers for the army, but rather to gather a list of people willing to lend their civilian skills in case ECOWAS attacks.

But many of those around the stadium appeared keen to fight.

POSSIBLE ATTACK

“They called on the youth to respond to a possible attack on our soil. And we are ready for any attack,” said blogger Tahirou Seydou Abdoul Nassirou.

“My life, I give my life to my country,” he said, wiping a tear from his eye as other young men nodded and cheered his words.

An ECOWAS delegation flew into Niamey on Saturday to hold talks with the junta, showing that efforts to resolve the standoff peacefully are still underway.

The level of support for the junta across Niger has been hard to assess, but thousands attended a previous rally at the stadium on Aug. 11 and applauded coup leaders’ vow to stand up to the bloc.

At the stadium on Saturday, 35-year-old Kader Haliou said patriotism was not the only motivation for those wanting to help the junta.

“Most of the young people who have come are unemployed. Getting registered is a blessing for us given the idleness and lack of work,” he said.

The coup and subsequent international sanctions have piled extra pressure on Niger’s struggling economy. It is one of the world’s least developed countries with more than 40% of the population living in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank.

The Niger junta are also getting support from Mali and Burkina Faso who dispatched warplanes on Friday to Niger in a show of solidarity against possible military intervention by ECOWAS.

A report aired on Niger’s state television highlighted joint efforts by Mali and Burkina Faso in support of Niger and the deployment of warplanes within Niger’s borders.

“Mali and Burkina Faso turned their commitments into concrete action by deploying warplanes to respond to any attack on Niger,” it said, noting the planes were Super Tucano fighter jets.

During a meeting Friday of the ECOWAS chief of staff in Ghana, the date of the impending military intervention in Niger was not disclosed but the bloc declared that its military forces were ready to intervene as soon as orders were given.

Burkina Faso and Mali, both under military leadership, previously released a statement of support for Niger against the planned ECOWAS military operation to alter the course of the coup in Niger.

It warned that any intervention would be seen as a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali.

Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani, the former commander of Niger’s presidential guard, declared himself the head of a transitional government last month after President Mohamed Bazoum was ousted in a military coup.

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