West Africa: Niger: France and Italy evacuate nationals

France and Italy have started evacuating their nationals and foreign nationals a week after the military coup in Niger, West Africa.

West Africa: Niger: France and Italy evacuate nationals

France and Italy have started evacuating their nationals and foreign nationals a week after the military coup in Niger, West Africa. This was announced by French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and her Italian colleague Antonio Tajani on Twitter.

More than 260 people, including 12 babies, have been evacuated from the Niger capital, Niamey, according to Colonna. At first there was no information as to whether people from other EU countries were on board the machine to France. Tajani wrote that the special flight with Italian and foreign citizens from Niamey is expected in Rome early in the morning.

According to information from the French General Staff, another plane should fly to France that night. A third aircraft should also be able to be used for the evacuation. France had offered to evacuate people from other European countries from Niger. According to the information, there are around 500 to 600 French in the country.

Help for Germans too

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) thanked her French colleague Colonna for the offer to also evacuate Germans from the country. After the overthrow, operations at the airport in the Niger capital Niamey were officially prohibited up to and including Friday. However, France received permission to land with three machines. Spain also reportedly wanted to evacuate its nationals from Niger.

The Federal Foreign Office also issued a travel warning yesterday and advised German nationals to leave the country. All Germans there should check whether their stay is still absolutely necessary and, if necessary, use the next opportunity to leave the country, the German Press Agency in Berlin was informed after a meeting of the crisis team. There are currently almost 100 German civilians in Niger. The British Foreign Office also issued a travel warning.

Constitution invalid

On Wednesday last week, officers of the Presidential Guard arrested the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum and declared him ousted. The commander of the Presidential Guard, General Abdourahamane Tiani, proclaimed himself the new ruler on Friday. Shortly after Tiani took power, the putschists suspended the constitution and dissolved all constitutional institutions.

After military coups in Mali and Burkina Faso since 2020, Niger was the last of the three neighboring countries in the Sahel to be led by a democratically elected government - and a key partner for the West.

The Bundeswehr operates an air transport base in Niamey, where more than 100 German soldiers are currently stationed. In addition, the staff of the German Embassy found refuge there. The overthrow now poses major challenges for the Bundeswehr. The base is the central hub for German soldiers in the region. The ongoing withdrawal of German blue helmets from the UN mission Minusma from neighboring Mali also runs over it. The military government in Mali had demanded that UN soldiers be withdrawn by the end of the year.

Pistorius: "trying to hold onto base"

If there is a way to guarantee the security of the soldiers, "then we will also try to stick to a base," said Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD). At the same time, alternatives are being sought as to how the withdrawal from Mali could be organized via other flight routes.

It is already foreseeable that the putsch will make the withdrawal of the Bundeswehr from Mali much more difficult than planned, Sahel expert Ulf Laessing from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation told the editorial network Germany (RND). "It is to be feared that the new rulers, like in Mali, will demand separate flight permits, which then have to be applied for in each case," Laessing continued. There are no alternatives to Niger. The land route through Mali or Burkina Faso is too dangerous.

Situation with potential for violence

At the same time, the conflict in Niger could escalate further. The West African community of states Ecowas had given the putschists an ultimatum on Sunday. If President Bazoum is not reinstated within a week, Ecowas will take action, which could include violence, it said.

Burkina Faso and Mali warned Ecowas not to intervene and threatened that any military intervention against Niger would amount to a declaration of war against their countries as well. However, it is unclear whether Ecowas can actually make the threat come true. The federation, which was founded as an economic community, does not have a joint military intervention force.