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West Africa: Niger Military Regime Open to Talks, Say Mediators

Niger’s coup leaders are willing to negotiate with the West African bloc ECOWAS, according to Nigerian mediators who met General Abdourahmane Tchiani.

Niger’s junta is ready to consider a diplomatic solution to its stand-off with West African bloc ECOWAS, mediators said Sunday.

A group of senior Nigerian Islamic scholars said Coup leader General Abdourahmane Tchiani, “said their doors were open to explore diplomacy and peace in resolving the matter.”

They met the Junta leader in the capital Niamey.

Tchiani stressed the historic ties between Niger and Nigeria, saying the countries “were not only neighbours but brothers and sisters who should resolve issues amicably.”

Tchiani defends coup

The discussion by the Nigerian scholars, led by Sheikh Abdullahi Bala Lau, including ECOWAS’ call for reinstating Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum, who was ousted in the July 26 coup.

Tchiani “claimed the coup was well intended” and that the plotters “struck to stave off an imminent threat that would have affected” Nigeria as well as Niger, according to Lau’s statement.

But Tchiani said it was “painful” that ECOWAS had issued an ultimatum to restore Bazoum without hearing “their side of the matter.”

First delegation from ECOWAS

Niger’s new military rulers have so far refused to receive any official ECOWAS delegations. One delegation had to leave after a short stay at the airport, another was banned from entering the country.

The visit of clerics comes as ECOWAS currently led by Nigeria explores its options to restore civilian rule in Niger, including a military intervention. The bloc had imposed sanctions and threatened to use military force if the putchists don’t reinstate President Bazoum.

Any military intervention by the bloc could further strain regional ties as juntas in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea have voiced support for Niger’s new military rulers.

Fear of Russian influence

Niger, a country of some 26 million people with one of the poorest populations in the world, had been one of the last democratic partners of the US and European nations in the Sahel region on the southern edge of the Sahara.

US, French, German and Italian troops are stationed in Niger, in a region where local affiliates of al Qaeda and Islamic State have killed thousands and displaced millions.

Meanwhile, Western powers fear Russia’s clout could increase if the junta in Niger follows Mali and Burkina Faso, which ejected the troops of former colonial power France after coups in those countries.

(AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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