Ecowas lifts Niger sanctions on 'humanitarian grounds'


West Africa's regional bloc Ecowas on Saturday said it was lifting some of the sanctions imposed on Niger after last year's military coup. 

 A no-fly zone, border closures and asset freezes were among the measures being stopped "with immediate effect" on "humanitarian grounds", Ecowas Commission chief Omar Alieu Touray said following an emergency heads of state summit in Abuja.

Niger's president Mohamed Bazoum was ousted in a military coup last July, prompting the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) to suspend trade and impose tough sanctions.

But the bloc's warning of military intervention has fizzled out with little sign that Bazoum – still imprisoned in the presidential palace in Niamey – is close to being restored.

Touray called for Bazoum's "immediate release" at the summit in Nigeria's capital.

He said the measures to be lifted included the freezing of Niger's assets in Ecowas central banks and the suspension of financial transactions between Ecowas states and Niger.

But Touray told French news agency AFP "individual sanctions as well as political sanctions remain in place in Niger... (and) in other countries political sanctions remain".

Rethink strategy

Nigeria's President Bola Ahmed Tinubu had urged worried West African leaders to rethink their strategy on the region's coup-hit states at the start of the summit.

West Africa has been rocked by a series of political crises and Tinubu told the leaders they were meeting at a "critical juncture".

Following recent coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Guinea, Tinubu – who is also head of Ecowas – said "we must re-examine our current approach to the quest for constitutional order in four of our members states".

The four have been suspended from the organisation and were not represented at the summit.

Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger declared their intention to permanently withdraw from the bloc in January, but Ecowas has called for them to return.

Tinubu urged them to "reconsider the decision" and said they should "not perceive our organisation as the enemy".

Senegal in spotlight

The three countries' new military leaders have accused former colonial power France of instrumentalising Ecowas, and they have pushed out French ambassadors and forces while turning politically and militarily towards Russia.

West Africa has also been rattled by President Macky Sall's sudden decision to delay elections in Senegal.

Sall has faced growing calls to set a date for the presidential election after his postponement of the 25 February poll triggered weeks of turmoil.

Sall attended Saturday's summit and Touray said Ecowas leaders had "taken note of the end of President Macky Sall's term of office on April 2".

He urged all parties to prioritise dialogue to achieve "free, fair and inclusive elections".

(with AFP)