French ambassador stays in Niger, defying junta, as Macron defends French policy

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that France’s ambassador is staying at his post in Niger despite being asked to leave by the ruling junta, speaking out firmly against the coup leaders while insisting that France is not Niger’s enemy.

Since ousting Niger’s democratically elected president a month ago, the junta has been exploiting grievances among the population toward former colonial ruler France, and has turned to Russian mercenary group Wagner for help.

Macron dismissed concerns that standing up to the junta could be dangerous.

“Our policy is the right one. It depends on the courage of President Mohamed Bazoum, the commitment of our diplomats, of our ambassador on the ground who is remaining despite pressure,” Macron told a gathering of French ambassadors in Paris.

French Ambassador Sylvain Itte was asked to leave Niger within 48 hours in a letter Friday from the Nigerien Foreign Ministry that accused him of ignoring an invitation for a meeting with the ministry. The letter also cited “actions of the French government contrary to the interests of Niger.”

France has consistently acknowledged only the authority of Bazoum. He is still detained by the junta, which is now under sanctions by Western and regional African powers.

“One shouldn’t give in to the narrative used by the coup leaders that consists of saying France has become our enemy,” Macron said Monday.

’’The problem of Nigeriens today is the coup leaders who put them in danger because they are abandoning the fight against terrorism, because they are abandoning a policy that was economically good for (the population) and they are in the process of losing international funding that was helping them emerge from poverty.”

France has about 1,500 troops in Niger helping local forces fight Islamic extremists. The military cooperation has been suspended since the coup, whose leaders say Bazoum's government wasn't doing enough to protect the country.