Limited Outcome in Talks Between Regional Bloc and Niger’s Junta, Insider Reveals to AP

by Ethan Kim
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Crisis Resolution

A high-ranking official informed The Associated Press that discussions between the rebel military group in Niger and a West African regional delegation have yielded minimal progress. The rebel soldiers in Niger, who ousted the country’s president nearly a month ago, are facing pressure from sanctions imposed by neighboring countries. These soldiers, however, are hesitant to restore the deposed president due to concerns about potential attacks from France.

The official, who spoke anonymously to The Big Big News, revealed insights following a meeting on Saturday between Niger’s new military leadership, led by Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, and representatives from the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS. The aim of the approximately two-hour dialogue was to find a peaceful resolution to the deepening crisis in the country. Unfortunately, the meeting produced little tangible progress, leaving the next steps unclear. Notably, this was the first time that Gen. Tchiani engaged with the delegation, having rebuffed previous attempts at dialogue.

The encounter on Saturday marked a last-ditch diplomatic effort by the regional bloc to defuse the crisis peacefully. This followed an announcement from the previous week that 11 out of 15 member states were prepared to intervene militarily if the democratically-elected President Bazoum was not released from house arrest and reinstated.

It’s worth noting that the three other countries in the region under military rule due to coups—Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso—were not part of this initiative. The latter two nations had cautioned that intervention in Niger would be perceived as an act of war.

On August 10, ECOWAS mandated the deployment of a “standby force” to enter Niger and restore constitutional governance. The timing and execution of this intervention remain uncertain.

During the talks, Gen. Tchiani pushed for the removal of economic and travel sanctions imposed by ECOWAS following the coup. He argued that these sanctions were causing suffering among Niger’s population. However, he was unwilling to make significant concessions in return. The junta expressed feeling pressure and at times adopted a conciliatory stance, apologizing for previous clashes with the regional bloc. Simultaneously, the junta remained resolute in its decision to overthrow Bazoum and emphatic about his exclusion from returning to power.

A recurring concern expressed by Gen. Tchiani was the perceived intention of France, Niger’s former colonial ruler, to launch an attack. France, with around 1,500 troops stationed in the country, had been involved in training and joint military operations with Niger’s armed forces. This situation has caused unease within the junta.

Niger was previously seen as a democratic partner by Western nations in the effort to combat the rise of jihadi groups affiliated with al-Qaida and the Islamic State in the region. However, the coup has disrupted these efforts, with substantial financial and military support being withdrawn by France, the United States, and other European countries.

Experts knowledgeable about the Sahel region highlighted that the outcome of Saturday’s meeting was unsurprising. Each party involved is striving to display openness to dialogue, but the vast differences in their stances make achieving an agreement unlikely.

Seidik Abba, a Nigerien researcher and Sahel specialist, voiced this divide, stating, “ECOWAS and the rest of the international community want to restore President Bazoum, and the junta is not on this agenda.” He predicted that the next phase could involve military confrontation, though the specifics and consequences remain uncertain.

Following the meeting, Gen. Tchiani addressed the nation through state television, outlining a three-year timeline for the transition to civilian rule. He declared that the plan’s details would be determined through a national dialogue within 30 days.

Aneliese Bernard, an expert in African affairs and former U.S. State Department official, remarked that this three-year transition is unprecedented considering the history of shorter transitions after previous coups. She also noted a growing trend of military rule in the region.

Some within Niger’s military are skeptical about Gen. Tchiani’s prospects. A soldier who previously worked with President Bazoum before the coup, speaking anonymously, shared that divisions exist within the presidential guard—the unit responsible for the coup—and within the junta itself. This soldier speculated that a majority of the soldiers at the presidential complex would flee if ECOWAS launched an attack. He anticipated Gen. Tchiani’s potential downfall within a few months.

Andrew Lebovich, a research fellow, highlighted the underlying complexities within the junta. Despite presenting a unified front, the junta comprises different branches of the armed forces that have historically competed for resources and status.

In summary, talks between Niger’s junta and the regional bloc have yielded limited progress, with significant differences in their goals and positions. The potential for military intervention remains, and the situation is characterized by uncertainty regarding the outcome and the future of Niger’s governance.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Crisis Resolution

What is the main issue discussed in the text?

The main issue discussed in the text is the political crisis in Niger following a military coup and the efforts of a regional bloc to find a peaceful resolution.

What role does the regional bloc play in the crisis?

The regional bloc, ECOWAS, is attempting to mediate the crisis by engaging in talks with Niger’s junta, aiming to reinstate the deposed president and restore constitutional governance.

Why are the mutinous soldiers hesitant to reinstate the president?

The soldiers who orchestrated the coup fear attacks from France and face pressure from regional sanctions, which complicates their decision to reinstate the ousted president.

What transpired during the recent meeting between the junta and the regional bloc?

The meeting aimed to find a peaceful solution to the crisis but yielded minimal progress, with no clear next steps identified.

How are France’s actions perceived in this situation?

France’s involvement raises concerns about potential military action, as they have troops stationed in Niger and have been involved in joint operations with the military.

What consequences could arise from the crisis?

The crisis disrupts efforts to combat jihadi groups in the region, causing Western nations to withdraw support and potentially leading to military confrontation if a resolution isn’t reached.

What is the junta’s stance on the crisis resolution?

The junta is reluctant to fully comply with regional demands, including the reinstatement of the deposed president, while expressing concerns about the population’s suffering due to sanctions.

What is the potential timeline for a transition to civilian rule?

The junta leader outlined a plan for Niger’s return to civilian rule within three years, a longer transition compared to past coups in the region.

How do experts view the likelihood of an agreement between the parties?

Experts suggest that due to stark differences in the parties’ goals, reaching an agreement through dialogue remains unlikely, potentially leading to military confrontation.

What internal divisions could impact the junta’s stability?

Divisions within the junta and the presidential guard, as well as concerns over Gen. Tchiani’s popularity and support, could lead to instability and potential challenges to his leadership.

What are the key challenges faced by the junta and regional bloc?

The junta’s reluctance to fully comply with demands, concerns about military intervention, and differing positions between the parties present significant obstacles to resolving the crisis.

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