Niger Ambassador to US warns coup could destabilize region

Alwasat Staff Fri 04 Aug 2023, 06:04 PM
alwasat radio

Niger's junta must "come to reason" and return power to ousted President Mohamed Bazoum before the country and the wider region collapse, Niamey's ambassador to Washington said Thursday.

"If Niger collapses, the entire Sahel will collapse, will be destabilized," Ambassador Kiari Liman-Tinguiri told AFP in an interview on Niger's independence day, as the future of Western economic and security aid hang in the balance for the landlocked West African country facing multiple conflicts with violent extremists.

"The junta should come to reason, realize that this affair cannot succeed, and prevent useless, inevitable suffering for our people and hand back power," said Liman-Tinguiri, who remains a recognized diplomat in Washington and considers himself a representative of the "legitimate" President Bazoum, detained by his guards since late last month.

A few hours later, the junta in Niamey announced that it was sacking Liman-Tinguiri in Washington as well as Niger's ambassadors to France, Nigeria and Togo.

Since officers seized power in the capital Niamey on July 26, the European Union and France have suspended security cooperation and aid, and Washington has suspended training with Niamey's security forces.

The West African regional bloc ECOWAS has imposed economic sanctions, and neighboring Nigeria has cut electricity that feeds 70 percent of Niger's grid, leading to rolling blackouts in the capital. Rice prices have shot up 40 percent, Liman-Tinguiri added.

Some 40 percent of the government's budget comes from outside aid, he pointed out.

"There will be devastating consequences if we let this situation continue," said the ambassador, wearing a traditional Nigerien kaftan and cap. "We have a lot of displaced people and refugees, how will we feed them tomorrow if all our partners refuse?"

Liman-Tinguiri also worried that Russia's Wagner paramilitary group -- already a security partner for the junta in neighboring Mali after ties between the putschists and France soured -- could take advantage of the situation.

A junta in Niamey, leading a country that was previously the West's key ally in a region facing threats from Islamic State and Al Qaeda-affiliated groups, could make it difficult to contain violence already spreading toward neighboring coastal states on the Atlantic Ocean.

"With this destabilization, there won't be any way to protect coastal African countries, countries on the West coast, and you will have Wagner and the jihadists control Africa from the coast to the Mediterranean," Liman-Tinguiri said.

"I don't wish my country to be taken by mercenaries, when we see the ravages, the crimes they've committed elsewhere" in Libya, Central African Republic and Mali, Liman-Tinguiri said.

Washington has not officially referred to the events in Niger as a coup because doing so could force the United States to cut its economic and security aid to the country, seen as a vital Western ally in the volatile Sahel region.

"The day the wording 'coup' is legally applied,' it's vanished," Liman-Tinguiri said.

"We were successful in containing and defeating ISIS and Al-Qaeda because we have help from our friends," he added.

Though the putschists cited a deteriorating security situation in the country as a reason to revolt, Liman-Tinguiri pointed to recent drops in violence, calling the takeover "an attempted coup d'etat which has no reason, no justification."

ECOWAS meanwhile has threatened to use force if President Bazoum is not returned to power by Sunday, a prospect Liman-Tinguiri hoped would not be necessary.

"Nobody would be happy to see a war. Nobody would be happy to see our people suffering one more armed confrontation in addition to what we have already," he said.

But ECOWAS has made it clear if the soldiers don't cede power, "then there is no option," he added. "I hope we will not go that far."

Junta-ruled neighbors Burkina Faso and Mali, also in the depths of a shared jihadist crisis, have vowed that an ECOWAS attack on Niger would amount to a declaration of war on them as well.

Liman-Tinguiri declined to say whether he was optimistic that the military would hand back power to a civilian government, but added: "If this does not happen, what will unfold is a disaster, definitely."

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