ABUJA, Nigeria Aug 19 (Reuters) – A delegation from West Africa’s main regional bloc ECOWAS flew to Niger’s capital Niamey on Saturday to hold talks with the junta, an ECOWAS source told Reuters, as the bloc pursues diplomatic ways to overturn the July 26 coup.
ECOWAS is pushing for a peaceful resolution to the ouster of President Mohamed Bazoum, but on Friday defence chiefs emphasised they were ready to intervene militarily if coup leaders continue to defy international pressure to stand down.
The delegation, which includes the bloc’s president Omar Touray, was met at Niamey airport by the junta-appointed prime minister and was due to hold talks with the self-declared authorities, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
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.
The coup comes as a blow to many countries in the West, which saw Niger as one of the last democratic partners in the region against the expansionist threat of armed groups. Niger also matters to the global market on various fronts, including its 5 percent share of the global supply of uranium.
The coup has already led to border and airspace closures that have cut off supplies of medicine and food, hampering humanitarian aid in one of the world’s poorest countries.
Nigeria’s President and ECOWAS chairman Bola Tinubu imposed more sanctions on Niger aimed at squeezing entities and individuals involved in the takeover, and said all options were still on the table.
ECOWAS has said the use of force would be the last resort. The bloc’s defence chiefs have agreed on a possible military action plan.
But Mali and Burkina Faso, ECOWAS members that have rejected Western allies since their own military took power in coups in the past three years, have promised to defend Niger’s new army rulers from any forceful attempt to remove them.
In a letter to the UN, they called on the Security Council to prevent any armed action against Niger, saying it would have unpredictable consequences such as the break-up of ECOWAS, a humanitarian disaster, and a worsening security situation.
Accusing Western powers of using ECOWAS as a proxy to conceal a hostile agenda towards Niger, they said they were committed to finding solutions through diplomacy and negotiation.
Mali and Burkina Faso previously said they would treat any military intervention in Niger as an act of war.
Further complicating the diplomatic picture is the influence of Russia in the Sahel region, which Western powers fear could grow stronger if the military government in Niger follows Mali’s example by throwing out Western troops and inviting in Wagner mercenaries.