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French Ambassador Departs Niger Amid Weeks of Tension

The French ambassador to Niger, Sylvain Itte, along with six colleagues, left the capital city of Niamey early on Wednesday, following weeks of tensions between France and the post-coup regime in Niger, which had demanded his expulsion. Their departure occurred two months after a coup in Niger removed the pro-Paris president, leading to strained relations between France and its former colony.

French President Emmanuel Macron had announced in a TV interview on Sunday that Ambassador Itte would leave “in the next hours,” though specific details were not provided at the time. The military leaders in Niger, who had overthrown the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, welcomed the announcement but were waiting for official actions to follow.

Niger’s military regime had previously ordered Ambassador Itte to leave the country after removing his diplomatic immunity and visa. However, a 48-hour ultimatum issued in August passed with the ambassador still in place, as the French government did not comply with the demand or recognize the legitimacy of the military regime.

France insisted that only Bazoum’s deposed government had the authority to order the ambassador’s departure. Ambassador Sylvain Itte, born in Bamako, Mali, in 1959, had held the position for a year and had a 35-year diplomatic career that included ambassadorships to Uruguay and Angola.

President Macron also announced in his TV interview that French troops would withdraw from Niger in the “months and weeks to come,” with a full pullout expected “by the end of the year,” in response to another demand of the Niger regime. He declared that military cooperation with Niger was “over.” France has maintained about 1,500 soldiers in its former West African colony as part of an anti-jihadist deployment in the Sahel.

The coup against Bazoum was the third such coup in the region in as many years, following similar actions in Mali in 2021 and Burkina Faso in 2022, both of which also led to the withdrawal of French troops. Macron stated that Niger’s post-coup authorities “no longer wanted to fight against terrorism” and reiterated France’s position that Bazoum was the “sole legitimate authority” in the country, describing him as being held “hostage” in the presidential palace.

Niger welcomed Macron’s announcement as “a new step towards sovereignty” but emphasized that the timeframe for the French troop pullout should be established through a negotiated framework and mutual agreement. Niger, like Burkina Faso and Mali, has faced jihadist attacks for several years.

The United States, which has around 1,100 military personnel in Niger, stated that it would “evaluate” its future steps in response to France’s announcement.

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