ECOWAS issues “D-Day” for Niger

TEHRAN – The West African regional bloc says it has agreed on a "D-Day" for military intervention in Niger to restore the deposed President Mohamed Bazoum.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) made the declaration at the end of a two-day meeting of West African army chiefs in Ghana's capital Accra, where they have been carefully discussing the logistics and strategy for a possible use of force in Niger.

ECOWAS has not disclosed a date for when a military intervention will take place, saying it will resort to the use of force if diplomatic efforts fail. The 15-member bloc has insisted that it will not be holding endless talks with the military rulers. The bloc did, however, say that any military action would be considered as a last resort.

"We are ready to go anytime the order is given," ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Abdel-Fatau Musah said during the closing ceremony.

"The D-Day is also decided, which we are not going to disclose."

Musah has said that a peaceful resolution remains the bloc's preferred option in the path ahead.

"As we speak we are still readying (a) mediation mission into the country, so we have not shut any door… (but) we are not going to engage in endless dialogue."

There was no immediate response from the defiant military rulers in Niger, who have insisted they will defend their country against any foreign aggression.

Critics have accused the United States and France of fueling the prospects of war to maintain their military presence in Niger. They also accuse the U.S. of driving a wedge between Niger and its neighbor Nigeria.

Niger’s military officers deposed President Bazoum on July 26 and have strongly defied calls from ECOWAS and Western leaders, in particular the United States and former colonial power France, to reinstate Bazoum, prompting ECOWAS to order a standby force to be assembled.

The military in Niger has said they have gained enough evidence to prosecute Bazoum for “high treason” and “undermining the security” of the country.

“The Nigerian government has so far gathered enough evidence to prosecute the deposed President and his local and foreign accomplices before the competent national and international bodies for high treason and undermining the internal and external security of Niger,” a Colonel-Major said on state TV.

The new military leaders have formed a new government with a civilian prime minister.

They have also slammed former colonial power France for meddling in their country’s domestic affairs and fueling instability while demanding all French forces leave their country immediately.

Critics have accused the United States of using the pretext of fighting extremist militants to plunder Niger’s natural resources, such as its vast uranium, which is used for nuclear energy and amounts to around seven percent of the world reserves, as well as the country’s oil reserves.

The military leaders have accused the United States and France, both of whom have military bases stationed in Niger – in an agreement with deposed President Bazoum – of increasing insecurity and stability in their country.

There have been demonstrations in support of the military, with protesters holding up signs against France and ECOWAS; but the African bloc has refused to take the use of force off the table.

"We've already agreed and fine-tuned what will be required for the intervention," Musah said, declining to share how many troops would be deployed, which states will contribute and other strategic information.

According to ECOWAS, most of its 15 member states are prepared to contribute to the joint force with the exception of those already under military rule such as Mali and Burkina Faso as well as Guinea and Cape Verde.

In a sign of how fragile the situation could become, Mali and Burkina Faso have stated that any military intervention in Niger would be considered a “declaration of war” against their nations. This could see a military coalition between the three nations that could drag any ECOWAS military intervention beyond Niger’s borders.

Neighboring state Algeria has also expressed its opposition to the use of force. Russia has taken a similar position.

Some analysts have pointed out that ECOWAS’s credibility is at stake because it had warned that it would not tolerate any further coups in West Africa.

"The decision is that the coup in Niger is one coup too many for the region, and we are putting a stop to it at this time, we are drawing the line in the sand," Musah said.

Any armed intervention would spell further turmoil for West Africa's impoverished Sahel region, which is already battling a decade-old militancy and a deepening hunger crisis.

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts continue.

An Islamic delegation from Nigeria met with Niger’s military last week, in a move that was warmly welcomed by peace advocates.

The United Nations special envoy for West Africa and the Sahel, Leonardo Santos Simao, held talks with the military’s new civilian prime minister Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine on Friday.

Simao said in comments broadcast on Niger's state television that he wanted to listen to the coup leader’s point of view "to study together a way for the country to return as quickly as possible to constitutional normality and legality too. We are convinced that it is always possible with dialogue."

The prospects of another conflict erupting in West Africa, this time between African states, could make the volatile region very vulnerable.

Regional nations are already battling extremist militants with links to Daesh and al-Qaeda terrorist groups in the Sahel.

Experts say the regional states themselves should take the leading role in defeating these terrorists, who have not only wreaked havoc and insecurity but also brought about a humanitarian crisis.

Mali and Burkina Faso have already kicked out the armed forces of former French colonial power, saying the presence of the foreign forces only increased instability on their land.

Analysts have pointed to the evidence so far that the presence of Western powers such as the United States and France has done little to bring security to the region.

They also argue that France and the U.S. are seeking to drive a wedge between Niger and its neighbors, especially the African powerhouse Nigeria.

A point of view is also shared by the local population who have taken to the streets in large numbers in support of the military officers in Niger.

There are also widespread fears that any military intervention would spell a wider humanitarian and refugee crisis, with many experts arguing that the last thing West Africa needs right now is another fresh armed conflict.

Source: Tehran Times