News Investigators/ The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has taken a tough stance against the military juntas in Niger Republic, even as directed the coupists to hand over power to the democratically elected government of President Mohammed Bazoum.
ECOWAS is also set to enforced a no-flight zone over the country.
The regional body announced its decision on Sunday after an emergency meeting of the Heads of Government of the 15-member countries in Abuja.
The move is coming on the heels of increase tension stirred by the military actors who carried out a coup d’etat in the country.
This significant move which includes air and land border closure, is seen as a crucial reaction to the recent ascendancy of the junta, which has stirred significant unrest in the country and poses a threat to political stability within the region.
The ECOWAS leadership believes that the imposition of a no-flight zone will help curb the junta’s influence and hinder any potential allies from providing aerial support, even as leaders of the coup fear that the regional body could stage an imminent military intervention in the capital of the Sahel country.
In addition to the no-flight zone, the regional body has agreed on immediate financial sanctions over the coup, and has given the junta a week to cede power, while noting that a use of force has not been ruled out.
ECOWAS also insisted that President Mohamed Bazoum remained recognized as president of Niger, and called upon member states and the international community to uphold and respect these decision, in an effort to help restore peace and stability in the republic.
Meanwhile, Military leaders in Niger have warned against any armed intervention in the country, as west African leaders meet Sunday in Abuja for an emergency summit to decide on further actions to pressure the army to restore constitutional order after a coup last week.
The heads of state of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the eight-member West African Economic and Monetary Union are set to meet in Nigeria, where they could suspend Niger from their institutions, cut off the country from the regional central bank and financial market, or close borders.
The west African leaders are focused on ways to restore president Mohamed Bazoum who was ousted when Gen Abdourahamane Tchiani was declared the new head of state.
Ahead of Sunday’s summit, coup leaders in Niger warned against any military intervention.
“The objective of the [ECOWAS] meeting is to approve a plan of aggression against Niger through an imminent military intervention in Niamey in collaboration with other African countries that are non-members of ECOWAS, and certain western countries,” junta spokesperson Colonel Amadou Abdramane said in a statement read out on state TV on Saturday night.
“We want to once more remind ECOWAS or any other adventurer, of our firm determination to defend our homeland,” he said.
The junta issued a second statement on Saturday night inviting citizens in the capital take to the streets from 7am local time to protest against ECOWAS and show support for the new military leaders.
The military coup in Niger has been widely condemned by its neighbours and international partners who have refused to recognise the new leaders and have demanded that Bazoum be restored to power.
Bazoum has not been heard from since early Thursday when he was confined within the presidential palace, although the European Union, France and others say they still recognise him as the legitimate president and he has been able to speak to some international leaders.
On Saturday, the European Union and France suspended financial support and cooperation on security with Niger.
Announcing the sanctions, the EU’s foreign policy head, Josep Borrell, said: “The European Union does not recognise and will not recognise the authorities from the putsch in Niger,” adding that Mohamed Bazoum “remains the only legitimate president of Niger” and calling for his immediate release.
After an emergency meeting on Friday, the African Union issued a statement demanding that the military return to their barracks and restore constitutional order within 15 days. It did not say what would happen after that.
The announcement will be a severe blow to Niger, which has been a major recipient of western aid, including from the EU and US, as an ally in the fight against jihadist insurgencies which have been destabilising the wider Sahel region.
Niger’s government has been seen by many in the international community as a bulwark against Islamist militancy in a vast arid region beset by security challenges. French and UN troops were in recent years forced to withdraw from neighbouring Mali, but France still has 1,500 soldiers in Niger. The overthrow of Bazoum could put the future of their deployment in doubt.