NIAMEY – The military junta that seized power in Niger in a coup last month said it would prosecute ousted President Mohamed Bazoum on charges of high treason over his dealings with foreign heads of state and organizations international.
Leaders of the United States, United Nations and West Africa have condemned the move, calling it another sign that the junta is unwilling to seek a peaceful way out of the crisis.
The coup leaders imprisoned Bazoum and dissolved the elected government, drawing condemnation from world powers and the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, which decided last week to assemble a reserve military force that could intervene if the coup failed. diplomacy.
At stake is not just the fate of Niger – a major uranium producer and Western ally in the fight against an Islamist insurgency – but also the influence of rival world powers with strategic interests in the region.
Junta spokesman Colonel Amadou Abdramane said in a statement read Sunday night on state television that military authorities had “gathered the necessary evidence to prosecute the ousted president… for high treason and undermining internal security.” and exterior of Niger”.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the attempted indictment against Bazoum was “very worrying” and repeated calls for the president’s immediate release.
“This action is totally unwarranted and unwarranted and, frankly, will not contribute to a peaceful resolution to this crisis,” said US State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel.
ECOWAS condemned this decision and called it a provocation.
“(This) contradicts the announced will of the military authorities of Niger to restore constitutional order by peaceful means,” the regional bloc said.
Niamey residents, many of whom were deeply disappointed in Bazoum’s government and support the putschists, said they supported the prosecution of the ousted president.
“This is not surprising given that you have heard the various statements and appeals (that he made) to the international community not only to impose sanctions but also to intervene militarily on Nigerien territory,” Illiassou Boubacar said. , a civil society activist in his 50s.
“But what we want is for it to be carried out according to the rules of the art, respecting all the procedures and hiring magistrates with the skills required to do the job.”
Mucahid Durmaz, senior West Africa analyst at risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft, said the junta wanted to diminish Bazoum’s legitimacy and deter foreign powers from trying to reinstate him.
“Bazoum’s prosecution will likely force ECOWAS to soften its stance against the junta and focus on establishing a transitional agreement to allow a return to democratic governance,” he said.
Abdramane said there was a disinformation campaign against the junta in an attempt to “derail any negotiated solution to the crisis in order to justify military intervention…on behalf of ECOWAS”.
On Monday, the junta criticized Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara for expressing strong support for such an intervention last week if Bazoum is not reinstated and promising to contribute a battalion of troops to a joint force.
Spokesman Abdramane said the junta had decided to recall Niger’s ambassador from Ivory Coast for consultations in response to Ouattara’s “excessively threatening statements”.
The junta rebuffed several diplomatic missions in the first two weeks after the coup, although it has signaled a potential willingness to engage since ECOWAS said it would “activate” standby troops to possible use in Niger.
The ECOWAS parliament said on Saturday it wanted to send a committee to meet the junta in Niamey, but the proposed timeline for that mission is unclear.
The African Union, European Union, United States and United Nations have all expressed concern about Bazoum’s conditions of detention.
Bazoum’s political party said his family had no access to running water, fresh food or doctors. The junta said on Sunday that Bazoum last saw a doctor on August 12 and there were no concerns about his health.
Bazoum’s daughter, who is overseas, told Britain’s Guardian newspaper last week that the junta was keeping him in dire conditions in an attempt to force him to sign a resignation letter.
The 55-nation African Union Peace and Security Council met on Monday to discuss the situation in Niger, which is the seventh coup in West and Central Africa in three years.
American, French, German and Italian troops are stationed in Niger, in an area where local al-Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates have killed thousands and displaced millions.
Meanwhile, Russian influence has grown as insecurity rises, democracy erodes, and leaders seek new partners to restore order.
Western powers fear Russia’s influence will increase if the junta in Niger follows Mali and Burkina Faso, which expelled troops from former colonial power France after coups.
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