French Ambassador Sylvain Itte is living on “military rations,” Macron says, accusing Niger’s ruling army of cutting off food deliveries to the embassy.
President Emmanuel Macron has said the French envoy to Niger is living like a hostage in the French embassy and accused military rulers of blocking food deliveries to the mission.
The ambassador is living on “military rations,” Macron told reporters in the eastern city of Semur-en-Auxois on Friday.
“Right now we have an ambassador and diplomatic staff literally being held hostage in the French embassy,” he said.
“They are preventing food deliveries,” he said, in an apparent reference to Niger’s new military rulers. “He eats military rations.”
Niger’s military leaders told French Ambassador Sylvain Itte to leave the country after they overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26.
But a 48-hour ultimatum for him to leave, issued in August, was passed while still in effect because the French government refused to comply or recognize the military government as legitimate.
The coup has been condemned by France and most of Niger’s neighbors.
Macron said the envoy “cannot go out, he is persona non grata and he is denied food.”
Asked whether France would consider bringing him home, Macron said: “I will do whatever we agree with President Bazoum because he is the legitimate authority and I speak to him every day.”
France holds about 1,500 soldiers in Niger and said earlier this month that any redeployment could only be negotiated with Bazoum.
The country’s new leaders have torn up military cooperation agreements with France and asked troops to leave quickly.
Macron has for weeks rejected calls to fire the French ambassador, a position backed by the EU, which has described the demand as “a provocation.”
Like France, EU spokesperson Nabila Massrali said last month, the EU “does not recognize” the authorities that seized power in Niger.
The impoverished sub-Saharan Sahel region has suffered what Macron has called an “epidemic” of coups in recent years, with military regimes replacing elected governments in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Niger.
Last week, Colonel Amadou Abdramane, a spokesman for Niger’s coup leaders, accused France of amassing troops and equipment in West African countries with a view to launching a “military intervention” against Niamey.
Niger is also embroiled in a standoff with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has threatened to intervene militarily if diplomatic pressure to return Bazoum to power fails.