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African Union Issues Ambiguous View on Possible Niger Military Intervention

AU opposes countries outside Africa getting involved, but gives more nuanced position on any Ecowas military action

The African Union (AU) appears to have left room open for military intervention by a west African political bloc to restore democracy in Niger, as Algerian state radio said it had refused a French request to fly over its airspace for a military operation.

France’s joint defence staff, however, denied the country had made any request to Algeria to use its airspace for a military operation in Niger.

While the AU issued a statement “strongly” opposing any military action from countries outside the continent, it offered a more ambiguous view on any intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), which has said it is prepared to send troops into Niger if diplomatic efforts to restore democracy fail.

Saying that it noted the stance of Ecowas, it said it would ask the AU’s commission to examine the implications.

The statements follow a meeting of the AU’s peace and security council and reflect a more nuanced position on Ecowas’s potential intervention than had been anticipated from previous statements from the union. Reports on the eve of the meeting, including in the French media, had raised the prospect that the AU would come out clearly against any military intervention, including by Ecowas.

The AU suspended Niger from all its activities after the military coup on 26 July, reiterating calls for the coup leaders to release the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, and return to their barracks. The AU also called on all of its member states and the international community to refrain from any action that could legitimise Niger’s junta, and said it strongly rejected interference from any actor or country from outside Africa.

The AU meeting came a day after Ecowas rejected a proposed three-year timetable from the head of Niger’s junta, Gen Abdourahamane Tchiani, to return to civilian rule. His announcement followed a visit to Niger by a delegation from Ecowas in a final diplomatic push.

“The three-year transition is unacceptable,” Abdel-Fatau Musah, the Ecowas commissioner for politics and security, said on Monday. “We want constitutional order to be restored as soon as possible.”

On Saturday, Tchiani had accused Ecowas of preparing to attack Niger in collaboration with a foreign army, without naming which country. “If an attack were to be undertaken against us, it will not be the walk in the park some people seem to think,” he said.

The junta’s accusation coincided with a report in Le Monde that Bazoum had asked France in the early days of the coup to lend military aid in efforts to overturn it and free him.

Ecowas said last week it had agreed an undisclosed “D-day” for a possible military intervention if diplomatic efforts failed – an escalation that could further destabilise a conflict-torn and impoverished region.

The Algerian report follows comments by Algeria’s president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, this month saying that “a military intervention could ignite the whole Sahel region and Algeria will not use force with its neighbours”.

The north African country fears repercussions such as an influx of refugees into its territory, a government source familiar with the situation told Reuters. “We are against the coup but we are against a military action that would worsen the situation in Niger and beyond in the Sahel,” the source, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

Source : The Guardian