West Africa bloc seeks ways to engage with Niger junta
By Edward McAllister
DAKAR (Reuters) – West Africa’s regional bloc kept up its search on Sunday for diplomatic ways to overturn last month’s coup in Niger, while retaining the threat of military intervention amid a crisis that has sucked in global superpowers.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said on Saturday that it aimed to send a parliamentary committee to meet the coup leaders, who have imprisoned Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum and dissolved the elected government, in the seventh coup in West and Central Africa in three years.
While the ECOWAS parliament made no firm decisions on Saturday, it set up a committee that plans to meet Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who holds the bloc’s revolving chairmanship, to get his permission to go to Niger, its spokesperson said.
The coup leaders, headed by General Abdourahamane Tiani, have rebuffed prior diplomatic efforts by ECOWAS, the United States and others, raising the spectre of further conflict in the impoverished Sahel region of West Africa, which is already dealing with a deadly Islamist insurgency.
With diplomacy faltering, ECOWAS has activated a standby military force they say will be deployed as a last resort if talks fail.
At stake is not just the fate of Niger – a major uranium producer and Western ally in the fight against the Islamists – but also the influence of rival global powers with strategic interests in the region.
U.S., French, German and Italian troops are stationed in Niger, in a region where local affiliates of al Qaeda and Islamic State have killed thousands and displaced millions.
Meanwhile, Russian influence has grown as insecurity increases, democracy erodes, and leaders seek new partners to restore order.
Western powers fear Russia’s clout could increase if the junta in Niger follows neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso, which ejected the troops of former colonial power France after coups in those countries.
(Reporting by Edward McAllister; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Hugh Lawson)
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