French ambassador to Niger returns to Paris amid diplomatic tensions

The French ambassador to Niger returned to Paris on Wednesday, following his expulsion by the military junta roughly a month ago. This comes shortly after President Emmanuel Macron announced the diplomat’s recall and the withdrawal of French troops.

Relations between Niger and France, its former colonial ruler which maintained a military presence in the country to help fight Islamist insurgents, have broken down since army officers seized power in Niamey in July.

The junta had ordered French ambassador Sylvain Itté to leave the country within 48 hours at the end of August in response to what they described as actions by France that were “contrary to the interests of Niger”.

France at first ignored the order, sticking to its stance that the military government was illegitimate and calling for the reinstatement of elected President Mohamed Bazoum, who was toppled in the coup.

But in an about turn, Macron announced on Sunday that the ambassador would return to Paris and French troops would leave.

Two security sources in Niger said Sylvain Itté had flown out of the country. The president’s office in Paris later confirmed Itte took off to Paris from the Chadian capital N’Djamena at around 8 A.M. on Wednesday.

According to the Quai d’Orsay, he was received on his return by French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna.

“Today is a very proud day for me, and especially for the Nigerien people, hearing of the French ambassador’s departure who stubbornly stayed in Niger to show that the new government was not a real authority,” local resident, Yucouba Abdou, told Reuters.

“But today, he saw that Niger was not a little country,” Abdou added. There have been almost daily protests against France in Niamey since the military took power. Crowds of junta supporters have spent days camping outside a French military base to demand the troops’ departure. Macron had said Sylvain Itté and his staff were effectively being held hostage at the embassy.

Source: Reuters