ACCRA/NIAMEY: West African military chiefs are holding a second day of talks in Ghana on Friday, preparing for a possible armed intervention in Niger after a coup removed President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed a day earlier to activate a “standby force” as a last resort to restore democracy in Niger after generals toppled and detained Bazoum.
ECOWAS defence chiefs are having a two-day meeting in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, to fine-tune details of a potential military operation to restore Bazoum if continuing negotiations with coup leaders fail.
“Let no one be in doubt that if everything else fails the valiant forces of West Africa, both the military and the civilian components, are ready to answer to the call of duty,” Abdel-Fatau Musah, an ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs and security, told the meeting on Thursday.
“Meanwhile, we are still giving diplomacy a chance and the ball is in the court of the junta.”
Musah added that except for Cape Verde and countries led by military governments, all other countries in the 15-member bloc are ready to contribute to the regional force.
The defence chiefs are expected to announce any next steps at a closing ceremony at 4pm (16:00 GMT).
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, with growing international concern over his conditions in detention.
ECOWAS leaders say they must act after Niger became the fourth West African nation since 2020 to suffer a coup, following Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea.
The Sahel region is struggling with armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) and frustration over the violence has in part prompted the military takeovers.
Details of the Niger operation have not been released and analysts say any intervention would be politically and militarily risky, especially for regional powerhouse Nigeria.
Nigeria is already struggling to contain violence from several armed groups at home, and leaders in the country’s north have warned about spillover from Niger across the border if there is an intervention.
ECOWAS troops have intervened in other emergencies since 1990, including civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Ivory Coast, Benin and Nigeria are expected to contribute troops to a Niger mission.
Niger’s coup leaders have warned against any military attacks and defiantly threatened to charge Bazoum with treason. But they have also said they are open to talks.
The military-led governments in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso have also said an intervention in Niger would be seen as a declaration of war against them.
Russia and the United States have urged a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
ECOWAS has already applied trade and financial sanctions on Niger while France, Germany and the United States have suspended aid programmes.
Germany has also said it wants the European Union to impose sanctions on the coup leaders, saying that Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had held talks with her French and US counterparts.