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Former Niger Rebel Leader Launches Group to Oppose Junta


FILE - Former Tuareg rebel leader, Rhissa Ag Boula, poses in the northern city of Agadez, Niger, July 20, 2011. (Photo by Boureima Hama / AFP)
FILE - Former Tuareg rebel leader, Rhissa Ag Boula, poses in the northern city of Agadez, Niger, July 20, 2011. (Photo by Boureima Hama / AFP)

Two Nigerian envoys traveled to the Niger capital for talks Wednesday as a former rebel leader and Niger politician launched a movement opposing the military junta that seized power two weeks ago — the first sign of organized resistance to army rule in the West African country.

In a statement released Wednesday, Rhissa Ag Boula said his group, the Council of the Resistance for the Republic (CRR), will aim to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, who has been in detention at his residence since members of the presidential guard took power on July 26.

Boula is a former minister of tourism and a leader in two Tuareg ethnic insurgencies in Niger, one in the 1990s, the other from 2007-09.

Meanwhile, Bazoum’s party said Wednesday that the president and his family are running out of food and have been living without electricity and running water for a week. An adviser told The Associated Press that the family has only rice and canned goods left to eat.

Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are scheduled to hold a summit Thursday in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, to discuss the Niger crisis.

Until Wednesday, Niger’s military junta had rejected diplomatic overtures.

But they allowed two envoys sent by Nigerian President Bola Tinubu into the country, despite its closed borders: Lamido Muhammad Sanusi and Abdullsalami Abubarkar, both prominent traditional leaders.

Sanusi met with General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the coup leader, while Abukarkar met with other representatives at the airport.

"We’ll continue to do our best to bring the two parties together to improve understanding. This is the time for public diplomacy," Sanusi told reporters upon his return to Abuja.

A day earlier, Niger’s military junta had rejected a proposed diplomatic mission from West African states, the African Union and the United Nations. The junta leaders said a "climate of threatened aggression" made it impossible to hold talks on ending the constitutional crisis in Niger.

Late on Tuesday, ECOWAS said in a statement that it would "continue to deploy all measures in order to restore constitutional order in Niger." The 15-member bloc, along with Western allies of Niger, have placed a series of financial sanctions against the country since the coup. The financial sanctions could lead to a default on Niger's debt repayments, Reuters reported.

ECOWAS has threatened to use force to reinstate Bazoum but a deadline on Sunday for Niger’s military to stand down passed without any military intervention.

The U.S. Embassy, meanwhile, has warned Americans to avoid the presidential palace and downtown parts of the capital, Niamey, warning of an increased security presence to monitor demonstrations.

The embassy said Wednesday it is aware of reports that cash and some goods are becoming scarce.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson on Tuesday said the United States still has hope for reversing Niger's coup but was "realistic."

"We do still have hope, but we are also very realistic," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters. "We do have hope that the situation will be reversed, but at the same time, we are making clear, including in direct conversations with junta leaders themselves, what the consequences are for failing to return to constitutional order."

Late Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, that had spoken to Bazoum "to express our continued efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the current constitutional crisis."

"The United States reiterates our call for the immediate release of him and his family," Blinken wrote on his official page.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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