France's ambassador to Niger, Sylvain Itté, and other diplomats are being held hostage in Niger by the country's military junta, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sept. 15.
"As we speak, we have an ambassador and diplomatic members which are being literally held hostage at the French embassy, and food is prevented from being delivered," Mr. Macron told reporters during a visit to Burgundy, France.
"They're eating military rations."
The military junta, known as the Conseil national pour la sauvegarde de la patrie (CNSP), took over Niger on July 26 and carried out a military coup to oust President Mohamed Bazoum and Niger's government from power.
The CNSP demanded on Aug. 25 that France expel Mr. Itté from Niger and set a 48-hour deadline. But France, which opposes the coup, didn't comply, saying the junta isn't Niger's legitimate authority.
Mr. Itté refused to leave his post after having received a letter from the Nigerien Foreign Ministry asking him to leave Niger and accusing him of ignoring an invitation for a meeting with the ministry.
The letter also cited “actions of the French government contrary to the interests of Niger.”
Nearly 1,500 French troops are based in Niger to help local forces fight Islamic terrorists. However, the military cooperation has been suspended since the military coup, whose leaders claim that Mr. Bazoum’s government wasn’t doing enough to protect the country from the insurgency.
France and most of Niger's neighbors have condemned the military coup.
The military junta is now under sanctions by Western and regional African powers.
But anti-French sentiment has risen in Niger since the coup; it further soured when France ignored the junta's order for Mr. Itté to leave, sparking protests.
Mr. Macron on Sept. 15 said that all decisions as to how to respond to the tense situation in Niger will be coordinated with Niger's democratically elected leader, President Bazoum.
The July 26 coup in Niger was one of eight in West and Central Africa since 2020. France's forces have been kicked out of neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso since coups in those countries, which has reduced its role in the fight against Islamist insurgencies.
France isn't the only country to express concerns. West Africa's regional bloc the Economic Community of West African States has slapped sanctions on Niger and threatened military action as a last resort. The United States and European powers also have troops stationed in the country.