© Reuters. The ECOWAS Committee of Chiefs of Defense staff brief the press on plans to deploy its standby force to the Republic of Niger, in Accra, Ghana, August 18, 2023. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko
By Felix Onuah and Boureima Balima
ABUJA/NIAMEY (Reuters) – A delegation from West Africa’s main regional bloc ECOWAS flew to Niger’s capital Niamey on Saturday to hold talks with the junta, an ECOWAS source told Reuters, as the bloc pursues diplomatic ways to reverse the July 26 coup.
Coup leaders’ acceptance of the mission signals a potential willingness to negotiate after the bloc on Friday doubled-down on its threat to use force as a last resort to restore democracy, saying an undisclosed “D-Day” had been agreed for a possible military intervention.
While previous ECOWAS missions have been rebuffed, Saturday’s delegation was met at Niamey airport by the junta-appointed prime minister and was due to hold talks with the self-declared authorities, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The group that flew in was led by Nigeria’s former military leader Abdulsalami Abubakar and included ECOWAS commission president Omar Touray, the source said.
There was no immediate comment from the junta, which has held president Mohamed Bazoum since seizing power despite international calls for his release.
ECOWAS has taken a harder stance on the Niger coup, the wider region’s seventh in three years, than it did on previous ones. The credibility of the bloc is at stake because it had said it would tolerate no further such overthrows.
Niger also has strategic importance for regional and global powers because of its uranium and oil reserves and role as a hub for foreign troops involved in the fight against the insurgents linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.
Underscoring the interests at stake, the U.S. State Department said on Saturday it had sent a new ambassador to Niger whose “diplomatic focus will be to advocate for a diplomatic solution that preserves the constitutional order.”
The junta’s vow to resist external pressure to stand down has been applauded by many in Niger.
Thousands of its supporters gathered at a stadium in Niamey on Saturday, overwhelming organisers of an unofficial census of civilians willing to volunteer for non-military roles if ECOWAS does resort to force.
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