Niger reopens borders with neighbours amid tensions after coup

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Niger has taken the decision to reopen its borders with five neighboring countries, including Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Libya, and Chad, just a week after a coup that has sparked international concern and raised fears of escalating conflict in the West Africa’s Sahel region.

According to a spokesperson for the transitional military government, the land and air borders were reopened on August 1, 2023. This move comes after the government closed the borders on July 26, following the removal of democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum from power.

It is worth noting that the borders reopened are primarily in remote desert areas, while key entry points for trade and commerce remain closed due to regional bloc-imposed restrictions.

Niger’s recent coup marks the seventh military takeover in less than three years in Western and Central Africa, drawing strong reactions from the international community. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has threatened to use force if the soldiers do not reinstate President Bazoum within a one-week ultimatum.

In response, Burkina Faso and Mali, both having experienced two coups each since 2020, have united in opposition to the rest of the 15-nation regional bloc. They declared that any external aggression in Niger would be seen as a declaration of war.

To address the situation in Niger, defence chiefs from ECOWAS are set to convene for a two-day meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, starting on Wednesday. Additionally, a delegation from the regional bloc is expected to arrive in Niger’s capital, Niamey, on Wednesday for talks with the military government led by General Abdourahmane Tchiani.

As tensions escalate, foreign troops have started to leave Niger. The first military planes carrying mostly European nationals departed from Niger to Paris and Rome on Wednesday. However, there has been no official announcement regarding the complete withdrawal of foreign troops yet.

Notably, countries like France, the United States, Germany, and Italy have maintained a military presence in Niger to support counterinsurgency and training efforts against groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS). German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius assured there were no safety concerns for German soldiers, while Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani emphasized the importance of ruling out any Western military intervention to restore democracy, as it could be perceived as a form of new colonization.

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