France will end its military presence in Niger by the end of 2023, French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday, marking the latest major development amid high tensions between the two countries since a military junta seized control of Niger in July.
“We are putting an end to our military cooperation with the de facto authorities of Niger because they don’t want to fight terrorism anymore,” Macron said regarding the military leaders who took over rule of the northwest African country.
France has not recognized Niger’s military authorities and insists that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, who was toppled in the coup, remains the country’s only legitimate authority.
The decision to end the “cooperation” is “because we are not there to deal with internal politics and be hostages of putschists,” Macron said, referring to the military group.
The withdrawal will be organized in the coming weeks, he said.
“They will come back in an orderly manner in the weeks and months to come, and for that, we will coordinate with the putschists because we want this to happen calmly,” Macron said.
Niger’s ruling military power said it welcomes France’s decision to pull its troops from the country, according to a statement posted to Niger’s state television, Tele Sahel.
“This Sunday, we celebrate another step towards Niger’s sovereignty. French troops and the French ambassador will be leaving Niger by the end of the year,” the statement said. “Imperialist and neo-colonialist forces are no longer welcome on our national territory.”
“Any person, institution or structure whose presence threatens the interests and outlook of our country will have to leave the land of our ancestors, whether they like it or not,” it added. “Our resistance will be unwavering, and will deal with any institution or structure attempting to challenge the higher interests of our nation.”
Some 1,500 troops remain.
Responding to a question on the withdrawal’s timeline, Macron said there will not be any French soldiers in Niger by the end of 2023.
French ambassador will also return
The French president also said he has decided to bring back the country’s ambassador to Niger, Sylvain Itte, to France.
“France has decided to bring back its ambassador,” Macron said. “In the coming hours, our ambassador along with several diplomats will return to France.”
That announcement comes just over a week after Macron said the ambassador was “literally being held hostage at the French embassy,” and that “food was prevented from being delivered” to the embassy in Niamey, the capital.
After their July coup, the military junta ordered Itte to leave the country, and it later revoked his visa and instructed police to expel him.
But the diplomat remained in place, according to the French presidency, and French authorities reiterated they did not recognize the junta’s authority.
Itte was still working, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said earlier this month, adding he “will stay as long as we want him to stay” and that the official’s return was Macron’s decision.