Niger: Macron Says France’s Niger Ambassador a ‘Hostage’ in Embassy

Niger’s coup leaders have tried to expel France’s ambassador, but Paris says it doesn’t recognize their authority to order him out. Macron said on TV he was “literally” a “hostage,” stuck in the French Embassy in Niamey.

President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday that France’s envoy to Niger was living like a hostage in the French Embassy in Niamey. He accused the country’s military rulers of blocking food deliveries to the building.

Ambassador Sylvain Itte was living off “military rations,” Macron told reporters in the French town of Semur-en-Auxois.

“As we speak, we have an ambassador and diplomatic staff who are literally being held hostage in the French Embassy,” he said. “They are preventing food deliveries. He is eating military rations.”

Soon after overthrowing Preisdent Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, in the latest of a series of coups in the region, Niger’s coup leaders ordered former colonial power France’s ambassador to leave.

Late in August, the coup leaders issued a 48-hour ultimatum for Itte to leave but France again said it would not comply.

Macron says will take cue from Bazoum, not military

The French president said the envoy “cannot go out, is persona non grata, and is being refused food.”

But when asked if he was therefore considering withdrawing Itte, Macron said: “I will do whatever we agree with President Bazoum because he is the legitimate authority and I speak with him every day.”

The EU had backed France’s refusal to bring Itte home, calling the coup leaders’ demand a “provocation.”

Niger was among France and the West’s last close allies in the region after a series of military coups in recent years in neighboring countries like Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea. In each case, the new rulers began cutting ties to France and often expanding ties with Moscow and its Wagner Group paramilitary outfit.

The head of the elite unit that once guarded Bazoum and later ousted him, General Abdourahamane Tiani, named himself leader after seizing power and suspended the constitution.

France still has more than 1,000 soldiers stationed in resource-rich Niger, who had previously assisted in fighting domestic insurgents and training local forces.

Niger’s coup leaders have also called on them to leave, but again France says any such deal should be negotiated with Bazoum and his ousted government. For now they are effectively confined to barracks with all joint activities with Niger’s military on ice.

Ambassador ‘still working’ and ‘very useful’ for Paris

Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said in a later on Friday that Itte “is working” in Niamey and that he would stay in his post for as long as Paris wished.

“He is very useful for us with his contacts and those of his team,” Colonna told LCI television, adding the ambassador still had a small team with him.

msh/wd (AFP, Reuters)

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