Niger’s military rulers are reopening the country’s airspace after seizing power on July 26. The junta previously cited the threat of military intervention from the West African bloc ECOWAS as the reason for the closure.
Niger’s junta said on Monday that it had reopened the country’s airspace to commercial flights.
Its airspace was closed on July 26 after Nigerien officers overthrow the government of President Mohammed Bazoum.
Why was Niger’s airspace closed?
The junta then reopened its airspace on August 2, only to close it again on August 6, citing the threat of military intervention from the West African bloc ECOWAS.
ECOWAS has threatened the use of force to restore constitutional order if Bazoum is not reinstated, but has yet to act on this threat.
The closure had forced Air France and other European carriers to suspend some flights and take longer routes.
Niger is more than twice the size of France and is the second-largest landlocked country in Africa, covering an area of 1,270,000 square kilometers (around 49,000 square miles). Many flights across the African continent would pass over Niger under normal circumstances.
Niger’s rulers did not give an immediate explanation for the move to reopen the country’s airspace.
PM hopes for deal with ECOWAS
Also on Monday, Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, who was appointed by junta leader General Abdourahamane, said that Niamey hoped to reach a deal with ECOWAS.
“We have not stopped contacts with ECOWAS, we are continuing contacts,” he told a press conference. “We have good hopes of reaching an agreement in the coming days.”
However, he also underscored the junta’s intention to defend itself if the bloc proceeds with its threat to mount a military intervention.
“We are bracing to be attacked at any time. Every preparation has been taken,” he said. “It would be an unjust war. We are determined to defend ourselves if there is an attack.”
Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who is the current chairman of ECOWAS, has suggested that Niger’s military rulers implement a nine-month transition period in the event they are “sincere” in their plans to hand back power to a civilian government. Algeria has proposed an even shorter transitional period of six months.
Niger’s junta has not responded to the suggestions, but has said that its rule will last “no longer than three years.”
Other developments in Niger
Late last week, junta supporters in Nigerien capital Niamey demanded the withdrawal of the 1,500 French troops present in the country. Paris has so far ignored the junta’s August 3 announcement that it had dropped its military agreements with France, arguing that Niger’s military rulers lack legitimacy and affirming support for the reinstatement of Bazoum’s government.
Niger’s junta also ordered a halt to uranium exports to France, which largely relies on nuclear energy.
A number of countries in Africa have seen coups in recent years, with Gabon’s government being overthrown by officers last Wednesday. Three of Niger’s neighbors — Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso — are under military rule, as are Sudan and Guinea.
EU diplomats say they are preparing sanctions against Niger’s military leadership, with organizations supporting the junta potentially also subject to sanctions.
(dpa, AFP, Reuters)