The ECOWAS force is on standby for military intervention in Niger if there’s no peaceful end to the coup that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, an official for the regional bloc said.
West Africa’s main regional bloc ECOWAS has agreed to a “D-day” for a possible military intervention to restore democracy in Niger if diplomatic efforts fail, a senior official said on Friday.
“We are ready to go anytime the order is given,” ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Abdel-Fatau Musah said during the closing ceremony of talks in Ghana’s capital Accra.
“The D-Day is also decided, which we are not going to disclose,” he added.
“We’ve already agreed and fine-tuned what will be required for the intervention,” Musah said, while declining to share how many troops would be deployed and other strategic details.
The ECOWAS delegates have been discussing the logistics and strategy for a possible use of force to end a coup that ousted Mohamed Bazoum as president. But Musah insisted a peaceful resolution remained the bloc’s preferred option.
Mediation efforts will take precedence
“As we speak we are still readying (a) mediation mission into the country, so we have not shut any door… (but) we are not going to engage in endless dialogue,” he added, saying that the delegation could leave for the Nigerien capital of Niamey on Saturday.
There was no immediate response from Niger’s junta, which has previously warned against any military intervention and even threatened to charge Bazoum with treason. But they have also said they are open to talks.
Bazoum was deposed on July 26, prompting ECOWAS to order a standby force to be assembled.
Since 1990, ECOWAS forces have stepped in during crises, such as the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
West African states pledge military support
Most of its 15 member states are ready to contribute to the joint force except those also under military rule Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, as well as Cape Verde.
Analysts say any intervention would be politically and militarily risky, especially for regional player Nigeria.
ECOWAS has taken a harder stance on the Niger coup, the wider region’s seventh in three years, than it did on previous ones.
The credibility of the bloc is at stake because it had said it would tolerate no further such overthrows.
Any intervention would spell further turmoil for West Africa’s impoverished Sahel region, which is already battling a decade-old Islamist insurgency and a deepening hunger crisis.
Niger also has strategic importance beyond West Africa because of its uranium and oil reserves.
Junta faces ‘grave consequences’ over Bazoum’s treatment
Bazoum, whose 2021 election was a landmark in Niger’s troubled history, has been held with his family at the president’s official residence since the coup.
ECOWAS chair and Nigerian President Bola Tinubu threatened the junta with “grave consequences” if the new regime allows Bazoum’s health to worsen under house arrest, an EU official said Friday.
During a call to European Union chief Charles Michel, Tinabu noted: “President Bazoum’s detention conditions are deteriorating.”
‘Nothing will happen’ to deposed president
Niger’s new Prime Minister, Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, assured The New York Times that the generals who orchestrated the July 26 coup against President Mohamed Bazoum won’t harm him.
“Nothing will happen to him, because we don’t have a tradition of violence in Niger,” Zeine told the newspaper in an interview.
However, the paper highlighted that utilities to Bazoum’s house, where he’s confined post-coup, have been cut. The outlet also reported that coup leaders have made threats against Bazoum if attempts are made to reinstate him through external military intervention.