France has started talks with some Niger army officials about withdrawing some troops from the African country, French news media reported unanimously, albeit citing off-the-record sources, on Tuesday.
According to an AFP source in the defense ministry, the French military had begun discussions with its counterparts in Niger about the withdrawal of "certain military elements" there after the July 26 coup, which ousted French ally President Mohamed Bazoum.
However, at this point, neither the number of French soldiers involved nor the timing of their departure has been decided, French newspaper Le Monde said, citing several unidentified French sources familiar with the matter.
The talks are not being held with coup leaders, but with regular army officials with whom France has long been cooperating, the newspaper said.
French military presence in Niger
Some 1,500 troops are stationed in Niger as part of France's broader fight against jihadists in the Sahel. French forces are mostly stationed at an airfield near the capital Niamey, which in recent days has been targeted by thousands of protesters urging them to leave.
The country became a major hub for France after coups forced the withdrawal of French troops from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso. According to Le Monde, some French troops could be redeployed in the region, notably in neighbouring Chad, while others could return to France.
Earlier, a source close to Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu told AFP that talks were in progress about "easing movements of French military resources" in Niger.
That source noted that French forces had been "immobilized since anti-terrorist cooperation was suspended" following the military takeover.
Influence of France is weakening
Relations between Niger and France, the country's former colonial power and traditional ally, deteriorated rapidly after Paris backed the elected Bazoum and declared the post-coup regime illegitimate.
The coup was seen as another major blow to French influence in the region, following the military takeovers in Mali in 2020 and Burkina Faso in 2022.
On August 3, the coup leaders renounced several military cooperation agreements with France, including one with a one-month notice period that expired on Sunday.
Niger's military rulers have also announced the "expulsion" of the French ambassador Sylvain Itte and said they were withdrawing his diplomatic immunity. They said his presence constituted a threat to public order.
dh/msh (AFP, Reuters)