The Foreign Office has temporarily withdrawn its staff from Niger after a military take-over led to unrest and Wagner Group mercenaries targeting the unstable African country.
Announcing the withdrawal in its latest travel update, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) warned Britons against all travel to Niger for security reasons.
The statement reads: “FCDO advises against all travel to Niger, including the capital city of Niamey, for security reasons.
“Travel within or out of Niger is at your own risk. The FCDO cannot offer advice on the safety of travelling to any departure point within Niger. We have temporarily withdrawn our UK staff from Niger and our embassy is operating remotely”.
It comes more than 10 days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the BBC Wagner Group fighters were taking advantage of instability in the republic.
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Soldiers overthrew Niger’s democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum in July and quickly entrenched themselves in power, rebuffing most dialogue efforts and keeping Mr Bazoum, his wife and son under house arrest in the capital, Niamey.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly announced on August 3 that the first UK nationals had been evacuated from Niger after the coup on July 26.
The West had seen Niger as one of the last democratic countries they could partner with to counter a growing jihadi insurgency linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, pouring millions of dollars of military aid and assistance into shoring up the country’s forces.
The country has been ruled by a junta after the ousting of the president with suggestions the coup leaders have asked for help from Wagner, which is in neighbouring Mali.
Mr Blinken said he did not think Russia or Wagner instigated Niger’s coup, but Washington was worried about the group “possibly manifesting itself” in parts of Africa’s Sahel region.
He said: “I think what happened, and what continues to happen in Niger was not instigated by Russia or by Wagner, but… they tried to take advantage of it. Every single place that this Wagner group has gone, death, destruction and exploitation have followed.”
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Meanwhile, a delegation from regional nations arrived in Niger on Saturday in a last-ditch diplomatic effort to reach a peaceful solution.
The representatives from the West African regional bloc ECOWAS travelled to Niger’s capital, Niamey, and joined efforts by United Nations Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Leonardo Santos Simao, in trying to find a solution to the crisis.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Friday Mr Simao would meet with the junta and other parties to try and facilitate a swift and peaceful resolution to Niger’s crisis.
He said: “What we want to see is a return to the constitutional order. We want to see the liberation of the president and his family, and restoration of his legitimate authority.”
ECOWAS had ordered the deployment of a “standby force” on August 10 to restore constitutional rule in the country.
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ECOWAS commissioner for peace and security, Abdel-Fatau Musah, said on Friday that 11 of its 15 member states agreed to commit troops to a military deployment, saying they were “ready to go” whenever the order was given.
The 11 member states do not include Niger itself and the bloc’s three other countries under military rule following coups: Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso.
The latter two have warned they would consider any intervention in Niger as an act of war. Niger’s state television said on Friday that Mali and Burkina Faso had dispatched warplanes in a show of solidarity.
Friday’s announcement was the latest in a series of empty threats by ECOWAS to forcefully restore democratic rule in Niger, some conflict analysts have said.
Straight after the coup, the bloc gave the junta seven days to release and restore Mr Bazoum, but the deadline came and went without action.
Ulf Laessing from think tank the Konrad Adenauer Foundation said: “The putschists won’t be holding their breath this time over the renewed threat of military action.”
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