Niger’s Military Rulers Accuse France of Unilaterally Releasing ‘Terrorists’

Niger’s new military rulers on Wednesday accused France, the country’s traditional ally, of having “unilaterally freed captured terrorists,” a term used for jihadists, and of breaching a ban on the country’s air space.

They claimed that France released a number of jihadists, who then gathered to plan an attack on “military positions in the tri-border area,” a hotspot region where the frontiers of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali converge.

“Events of an extreme gravity are unfolding in Niger as a result of the behaviour of the French forces and their accomplices,” according to the statement issued by the new regime, called the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP).

The statement reported that a unit of the armed forces had come under attack on Wednesday, although it did not directly link this with France’s alleged release of the jihadists.

A position held by the National Guard in a locality called Bourkou Bourkou, 30 kilometres (18 miles) from a gold mine at Samira in western Niger, came under attack at 6:30 am (0530 GMT), it said.

“At present, the toll is not yet known.”

The statement called on the security forces to “raise their alert level across the country” and on the public “to remain mobilised and vigilant.”

The regime also accused France of having allowed a “military plane” to take off Wednesday from neighbouring Chad, which then crossed into Niger, defying a ban imposed on Sunday.

The aircraft “deliberately cut off all contact with air traffic control on entering our air space,” from 6:39-11:15 am (0539-1015 GMT), it said in a statement read on national TV.

France has around 1,500 troops in Niger, supporting the country in its fight against jihadists who swept in from Mali in 2015.

But relations broke down after French ally President Mohamed Bazoum was toppled by members of his guard on July 26.

ECOWAS — the Economic Community of West African States — had given the coup leaders until Sunday to reinstate Bazoum or face the risk of military intervention.

The regime’s accusations come on the eve of a summit by the West African regional bloc ECOWAS on how to tackle the Niger crisis.

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