Niger’s junta says it is open to talks, while Putin and the US stress peace

(Reuters) – Niger’s military junta said on Tuesday it was open to talks to resolve a regional crisis stemming from last month’s military coup, while Russia and the United States called for a peaceful solution.

Western powers and democratic African governments called on the coup leaders to return the ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, whom they had arrested since July 26, but the military leaders refused and rejected attempts to negotiate.

West African army chiefs are due to meet Thursday and Friday in Ghana to prepare for a possible military intervention, and the main regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), has threatened to launch it if diplomacy fails.

Any military intervention could further destabilize the impoverished Sahel region, where an insurgency by groups linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State has displaced millions over the past decade and triggered a hunger crisis.

Ali Muhammad Amin al-Zein said, “We are in a transitional phase. We have clarified the entrances and exits, and we have reiterated our desire to remain open and talk to all parties, but we insisted on the need for the country to be independent.” Who was appointed prime minister by the army last week.

He spoke after a trip to meet Chadian President Mohamed Deby, who launched his coup in 2021. Niger’s seizure of power is the seventh in West and Central Africa in three years.

The coup and its consequences absorbed international powers that have strategic interests in the region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Mali’s military chief about the recent coup in neighboring Niger on Tuesday, a call likely to unnerve Western governments who fear growing Russian influence in West Africa’s Sahel region.

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Interim Malian President Asimi Guetta said on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, that Putin “stressed the importance of a peaceful resolution of the situation for a more stable Sahel region.”

Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said that US President Joe Biden’s administration is committed to a diplomatic solution, and said Niger is a partner she does not want to lose.

Singh declined to characterize the takeover as a coup, but said it “definitely looks like an attempted coup”.

Meanwhile, Nigerian President and ECOWAS Chair Paula Tinubu said on Tuesday that ECOWAS gets the support of the Central African Regional Community in efforts to overturn Niger’s coup and restore constitutional order.

“I understand our people’s fear of any form of military action. We are working to keep the sanctions in place and we are following them to the letter,” he said in a statement.

Russian influence in West Africa has grown while the West has waned since a series of coups began. Military leaders in Mali and Burkina Faso have expelled forces from France, the former colonial power, and have strengthened ties with Moscow.

In Mali, the military government has also brought in mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group, who have been accused of executing civilians and committing other gross human rights abuses.

Under Bazoum’s rule, Niger remained a Western ally. The United States, France, Germany and Italy have troops stationed there under agreements with the now deposed civilian government.

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Putin called for the return of constitutional order in Niger, while Wagner commander Yevgeny Prigozhin welcomed the military’s takeover and offered his services.

Support for Russia appears to be on the rise in Niger since the coup, with junta supporters waving Russian flags at rallies and calling on France to disengage.

The coup leaders in Niger canceled a host of military agreements with France, though Paris shrugged this off by saying it did not recognize them as legitimate authorities.

(Reporting by Felix Onuah from Abuja). Additional reporting by Mohamed Ramadan in Chad and Idriss Ali in Washington. Writing by Nelly Beaton; Editing by John Stonestreet, Estelle Sherbon, Alexandra Hudson and Jonathan Otis

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