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France’s former ambassador to Niger has returned to Paris after a period of tension

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna held a meeting with Sylvain Itté on Wednesday, September 27th, “to express gratitude to him and his team for their dedicated service to our country under challenging circumstances,” the ministry stated in a written announcement to AFP.

This development comes two months after a coup in Niger resulted in the removal of President Mohamed Bazoum, leading to strained relations between France and its former colony. The new leadership in Niger had called for the departure of Sylvain Itté.

Sylvain Itté, along with six colleagues, departed Niamey at around 4:00 am, as reported by a diplomatic source earlier to AFP. French President Emmanuel Macron had announced in a televised interview on Sunday, September 24th, that the ambassador would leave “in the coming hours.”

Niger’s military rulers, who took control following the ousting of the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26th, welcomed this announcement.

Born in Bamako, Mali, in 1959, Sylvain Itté served as the ambassador to Niger for a year. His diplomatic career spanned 35 years, during which he had previously held ambassadorial positions in Uruguay and Angola.

Itté had been instructed to leave the country by the junta after they seized power and revoked his diplomatic immunity and visa. However, a 48-hour ultimatum for his departure issued in August passed without his compliance, as the French government refused to recognize the military regime as legitimate or to comply with their demand. Paris maintained that only Bazoum’s deposed government had the authority to request the ambassador’s departure.

Additionally, President Macron announced during his Sunday TV interview that French troops would gradually withdraw from Niger over the “months and weeks to come,” culminating in a full withdrawal “by the end of the year,” in line with the Niger regime’s demand. Macron also declared the end of military cooperation, marking a significant shift in policy.

France currently maintains approximately 1,500 troops in its former West African colony as part of its anti-jihadist deployment in the Sahel.

The coup against Bazoum was the third such coup in the region within a span of three years, following similar events in fellow former French colonies Mali in 2021 and Burkina Faso in 2022. Previous coups also resulted in the withdrawal of French troops.

Like Burkina Faso and Mali, Niger has faced ongoing jihadist attacks for several years. In recent weeks, tens of thousands of people in Niamey have participated in protests and gatherings calling for the removal of French troops from the country. The United States, which has around 1,100 military personnel in Niger, has stated it will “evaluate” its future actions regarding the crisis following France’s announcement.


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