French companies are the main owners of three major uranium mines in Niger, a country with abundant uranium deposits in Africa. Niger ranks as the seventh-largest uranium producer globally and the second-largest supplier of uranium to the European Union. About 70% of France’s electricity originates from nuclear power.
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After the Nigerien military overthrew Niger’s Bazoum government in July, they commanded the French ambassador in Niamey to depart the nation within 48 hours.
This directive was directed at French Ambassador Sylvain Itte, who supposedly turned down an invitation to meet the new foreign minister of Niger, as per the Niger government. Authorities also pointed out “other actions of the French government contrary to the interests of Niger” as reasons for expelling Itte.
The verdict follows a series of citizen protests against the ongoing French presence and declarations by military leaders opposing the former colonial ruler.
In reply, the French foreign ministry remarked that the “putschists have no authority” to demand the expulsion of their ambassador.
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France currently has around 1,500 soldiers stationed within Niger’s borders. France has not yet accepted the military leadership’s choice to cancel agreements made between France and Niger’s previous government. They argue that those agreements were approved by the country’s “legitimate authorities.”
Shortly after the news broke about the directive for Itte to leave, there were reports that the Nigerien leadership had issued a similar 48-hour order to envoys from Germany, the US, and Niger. However, retractions were subsequently made, pointing to a false letter circulating online as the source of confusion.
In response to the reports about the US order, a spokesperson from the State Department informed Sputnik that the letter circulating online, supposedly from Niger’s foreign ministry, instructing the departure of US Ambassador Kathleen FitzGibbon, is untrue.
In late July, the military leadership in Niger removed President Mohamed Bazoum from power. This was one of three similar events in the region within the past few years. Burkina Faso and Mali also underwent military takeovers in 2022 and 2021, respectively. Both of these countries also expelled French troops from their territories.
France has advocated for the return of the Bazoum administration. They have also provided support to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has imposed sanctions on Niger and indicated the potential for military intervention to “restore constitutional order.”
France has emphasized its commitment to upholding five military cooperation pacts with Niger, as these agreements were entered into with the lawful authorities of the West African nation.
Niger claims that ECOWAS is under France’s influence. They have just declared that Burkina Faso’s and Mali’s armies can enter Niger if there’s a conflict. Both nations promise to defend Niger from military involvement.
“[Burkina Faso and Mali] warn of the disastrous consequences of military intervention in Niger, which could destabilize the entire region as NATO’s unilateral intervention in Libya did, which led to the spread of terrorism in the Sahel and West Africa,” the statement said.