France will support West African bloc ECOWAS more as it works to restore democracy in a region hit by recent coups as insecurity in the Sahel worsens, the French foreign minister said, as reported AFP.
Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna was visiting Nigeria, current chair of the Economic Community of West African States, to discuss bilateral cooperation and also regional security.
France has ended anti-jihadist military missions in Mali and Burkina Faso and more recently began to withdraw forces from Niger — all three countries where juntas are now ruling after coups.
Transitions to democracy are stalled in Mali and Burkina Faso and the junta in Niger has also brushed off ECOWAS demands to immediately restore constitutional order and insists on a transition of up to three years.
ECOWAS has imposed sanctions on Niger while leaving open a possible military intervention as a final option if needed.
Meeting her Nigerian counterpart Yusuf Tuggar in Abuja, Colonna said they had discussed supporting ECOWAS to restore constitutional order in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
“We see that the transition calendars have not been respected and as we see that insecurity, unfortunately, is on the rise,” she said.
“We have to do better and we will be there to support ECOWAS efforts. It cannot stay as it is without damaging the future of the populations,” she added.
She did not give any more details about how France would back ECOWAS efforts. The bloc has also given few recent announcements of any new steps with junta-led regimes.
– Back channels –
Talks with Niger’s junta appear to have mostly stalled as, in public, coup leaders have insisted on an up to three-year transition back from military rule.
After meeting with Colonna in Abuja, Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is also head of ECOWAS, said he was acting cautiously on Niger to ensure the safety of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum and his family.
“I am deploying all appropriate back-channel strategies to avoid bloodshed in Niger Republic,” he said in a statement.
“We recognise the wishes of our people; they do not want war, but that does not mean we can not take bold and decisive action,” he added.
Colonna said the strategy on Niger remained the same: clear requests for the release of Bazoum and the return of constitutional order as quickly as possible.
Military leaders in Niger have demanded France pull out its 1,500 soldiers who plan to leave by the end of the year.
In September, Mali’s ruling junta announced a delay to a presidential election scheduled for February. No new date has been set.
Niger is battling two jihadist insurgencies — a spillover in its southeast from a long-running conflict in neighbouring Nigeria, and an offensive in the west by militants crossing from Mali and Burkina Faso.