Niger’s military which seized power in a coup on July 26, has ordered French ambassador Sylvain Itte to leave the country within 48 hours, as relations between the West African country and its former colonial ruler deteriorated further.
The military-appointed foreign ministry said the decision to expel the ambassador was a response to actions taken by the French government that was “contrary to the interests of Niger”. These included the envoy’s refusal to respond to an invitation to meet Niger’s new foreign minister, the ministry’s statement said.
The ultimatum against the French envoy was rejected by Paris, which said it did not recognize the military rulers’ authority. “The putschists do not have the authority to make this request, the ambassador’s approval coming solely from the legitimate elected Nigerien authorities,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement issued on Friday evening.
The coup has pushed Niger’s longstanding relationship with France to breaking point and this latest move raises further doubts about the future of joint military efforts to fight an Islamist insurgency in the conflict-torn Sahel region.
The deterioration in Niger-France relations echoes post-coup developments in Mali and Burkina Faso, which have booted out French forces and severed longstanding ties.
Niger has strategic significance as one of the world’s biggest producers of uranium and as a base for French, US and other foreign troops that are helping to fight Islamist militant groups in the region.