West African military chiefs are set to meet in Ghana to coordinate a possible intervention aimed at reversing Niger’s coup.
Alarmed by a cascade of takeovers in the region, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has decided to create a “standby force to restore constitutional order” in Niger.
The meeting of the top brass on Thursday and Friday comes after fresh violence in the insurgent-hit country, with insurgents killing at least 17 soldiers in an ambush.
An army detachment was “the victim of a terrorist ambush near the town of Koutougou” in the Tillaberi region near Burkina Faso on Tuesday, Niger’s defence ministry said.
Twenty more soldiers were wounded, six seriously, in the heaviest losses since the July 26 coup.
Insurgents have gripped Africa’s Sahel region for more than a decade, breaking out in northern Mali in 2012 before spreading to neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015.
The “three borders” area between the countries is regularly the scene of attacks by terrorists affiliated with Daesh and Al Qaeda.
The unrest across the region has killed thousands of troops, police officers and civilians, and forced millions to flee their homes.
Analysts say an intervention to oust the coup’s leaders would be militarily and politically risky, and the bloc has said it prefers a diplomatic outcome.
ECOWAS issued a statement on Tuesday “strongly condemning” the latest attack, urging the military “to restore constitutional order in Niger to be able to focus (its) attention on security…weaker since the attempted coup d’etat”.
Talks have taken place this week in Addis Ababa among ECOWAS and Niger representatives under the aegis of the African Union.
The United States said Wednesday that a new ambassador would soon head to Niger to help lead diplomacy aimed at reversing the coup.
Kathleen FitzGibbon, a career diplomat with extensive experience in Africa, will travel to Niamey despite the ordered departure of the embassy’s non-emergency staff.
On Tuesday, Niger’s military-appointed civilian prime minister, Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, made an unannounced visit to neighbouring Chad – a key nation in the unstable Sahel but not a member of ECOWAS.
“We are in a process of transition, we discussed the ins and outs and reiterated our availability to remain open and talk with all parties, but insist on our country’s independence,” Zeine said.