A delegation from West Africa’s ECOWAS bloc arrived in Niger and met ousted president Mohamed Bazoum on Saturday, as they sought a peaceful rather than military solution to the country’s woes after army officers seized power in a coup.
Bazoum was “in good spirits”, a source close to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) told AFP — though he remains under detention and his electricity was still cut off.
He has been held with his family at the president’s official residence since the coup, with growing international concern over his conditions in detention.
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The ECOWAS delegation was also in Niger for talks with the officers who seized power from Bazoum on July 26.
Led by former Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar the West African representatives met with some of the senior officers who seized power, said the source, without saying if they included coup leader General Abdourahamane Tiani.
Saturday’s visit came after ECOWAS military chiefs announced they were ready to intervene to reinstate the ousted president.
ECOWAS has agreed to activate a “standby force” as a last resort to restore democracy in Niger.
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But it says it favours dialogue to defuse the crisis.
A source close to Saturday’s delegation said it would send “a message of firmness” to the army officers and meet Bazoum.
ECOWAS chair and Nigerian President Bola Tinubu on Friday threatened Niamey with “grave consequences” if the new regime allows Bazoum’s health to worsen, an EU official said.
Niger’s military-appointed prime minister, Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, told The New York Times that Bazoum would not be harmed.
“Nothing will happen to him, because we don’t have a tradition of violence in Niger,” the most senior civilian in the new regime told the daily.
Niger’s new rulers have so far shown little flexibility and warned against an “illegal aggression”.
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Thousands of volunteers turned out in central Niamey on Saturday answering a call to register as civilian auxiliaries who could be mobilised to support the army.
ECOWAS defence chiefs had met this week in the Ghanaian capital Accra to fine-tune details of a potential military operation to restore Bazoum if ongoing negotiations with coup leaders fail.
“We are ready to go any time the order is given,” Abdel-Fatau Musah, an ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs and security, said on Friday after the military chiefs’ meeting.”