West African leaders set conditions for lifting Niger sanctions

By Melissa Chemam with RFI
DEC 11, 2023 LISTEN

West African leaders on Sunday kept sanctions imposed on Niger after a July military coup and demanded progress towards a short transition to civilian rule before easing the measures.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) leaders met for a summit in Nigeria's capital Abuja with the region in crisis after coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Niger since 2020 and two attempted coups elsewhere in recent weeks.

At Sunday's summit, Ecowas decided to set up a committee of leaders from Togo, Sierra Leone and Benin to engage the Niger junta to agree "on a short transition roadmap" and work "towards the speedy restoration of constitutional order".

Niger in July became the latest member to undergo a coup when soldiers from the presidential guard detained President Mohamed Bazoum.

Ecowas commission President Omar Touray said the committee would engage with Niger regime's CNSP leadership to decide on progress towards a transition and other conditions for lifting sanctions.

"Based on the outcomes of the engagement by the committee of heads of state with the (Niger junta) the authority will progressively ease the sanctions imposed on Niger," Ecowas said.

"Failure by the CNSP to comply with the outcomes of engagement with the committee, Ecowas shall maintain all sanctions."

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who is Ecowas chairman and other leaders have called for Bazoum's immediate return to power, but Niger's rulers have kept the ousted president in detention and want up to three years for a transition back to civilian rule.

Ongoing sanctions against coup leaders

Ecowas leaders also discussed the delayed or uncertain transitions back to civilian rule and elections for Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea.

The body said it would lift travel restrictions on presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers from those countries in transition to help advancing negotiations.

Tinubu earlier said the bloc should try to re-engage with regional countries under military rule and support them to achieve "realistic and short" transitions to democracy.

Ecowas has imposed a series of economic sanctions on the juntas which are hurting the poor and should be removed, the military governments say.

Tinubu added that Ecowas would review a move by some member states under military rule to form a security alliance.

Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso in September signed a security pact promising to come to the aid of each other in case of any rebellion or external aggression.

Last month, armed attackers stormed military posts, prisons and police stations in another Ecowas member Sierra Leone, in what the government called a coup attempt that killed 21 people.

A week later Guinea-Bissau also denounced an attempted coup, with fighting between the national guard and special forces of the presidential guard.

 (with AFP and Reuters)