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Niger Junta Rebuffs Diplomatic Delegation


FILE - A supporter of Niger's National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP) holds up a placard with a photo of General Abdourahamane Tiani on in Niamey, Aug. 6, 2023.
FILE - A supporter of Niger's National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP) holds up a placard with a photo of General Abdourahamane Tiani on in Niamey, Aug. 6, 2023.

Additional sanctions were levied against Niger on Tuesday, hours after its military leaders rejected the latest diplomatic efforts by a joint delegation from West African states, the African Union and the United Nations.

The junta leaders denied the delegation entry, saying a “climate of threatened aggression” made it impossible to hold talks on ending the constitutional crisis in Niger, where members of the presidential guard took control and continue to detain democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum and his family.

The West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS has threatened military intervention in Niger unless Bazoum is reinstated, though a Sunday deadline for the coup leaders to comply passed without action.

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.

On Monday, Victoria Nuland, a U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, expressed “grave concern at the undemocratic attempts to seize power and urged a return to constitutional order.”

Nuland described her talks with Brigadier General Moussa Salaou Barmou, Niger's “self-proclaimed chief of defense,” as “extremely frank and, at times, quite difficult.”

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu ordered new sanctions through Nigeria’s central bank aimed at those involved in the takeover, a presidential spokesman said.

Th Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a bloc of 15 countries in West Africa, as well as Western allies of Niger, have placed a series of sanctions against the country since the coup.

ECOWAS, which has suspended all commercial transactions with Niger, froze its state assets in the regional central bank, froze assets of the state and state enterprises in commercial banks and suspended all financial assistance with regional development banks. The financial sanctions could lead to a default on Niger's debt repayments, Reuters reported.

Late on Tuesday, ECOWAS said in a statement that it would "continue to deploy all measures in order to restore constitutional order in Niger."

After the ECOWAS deadline of Sunday passed for Niger’s military to stand down, junta leaders there issued a pledge to defend the country and closed Niger’s airspace.

On Monday, neighboring Mali said it and Burkina Faso would send a delegation of officials to Niger to show support for the military rulers.

Both countries — which have fallen to military coups in recent years — have said military intervention in Niger would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned against Russia's Wagner mercenaries taking advantage of instability in Niger, whose neighbor Mali has become a partner of Moscow.

Blinken said in an interview with the BBC released on Tuesday that he doubted the Wagner Group plotted the Nigerien military's July 26 ouster of Bazoum, a Western ally.

"I think what happened and what continues to happen in Niger was not instigated by Russia or by Wagner," Blinken said, according to a transcript released by the State Department.

"But to the extent that they try to take advantage of it — and we see a repeat of what's happened in other countries, where they've brought nothing but bad things in their wake — that wouldn't be good," he said. "Every single place that this group, Wagner Group, has gone, death, destruction and exploitation have followed."

A spokesman for ECOWAS said leaders will hold an extraordinary summit Thursday in Abuja, the capital of neighboring Nigeria, to discuss the crisis in Niger.

Some information for this article came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.