ECOWAS envoys arrived in Niger on Saturday afternoon in a last-ditch diplomatic effort to reach a peaceful solution to the leadership crisis.
Niger’s prime minister welcomed the delegation, which was headed by a Nigerian former military head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar.
“This approach will be crowned with success, and I will report on the discussions to the current president of ECOWAS,” he said.
Nigeria’s president Bola Tinubu is serving as the ECOWAS president.
Abdulsalami Abubakar met separately with General Abdourahmane Tiani, the junta leader.
During the talks, Tchiani pushed for the lifting of economic and travel sanctions imposed by ECOWAS after the coup, saying Niger’s population was suffering because of them, but he was unwilling to give much in return, said the official.
The junta said they were under pressure, at times striking a conciliatory tone and apologizing for past disrespect towards the bloc, while also defiantly standing by its decision to overthrow Bazoum and unequivocal about him not returning to power, the official added.
Tiani also repeatedly expressed concerns that its former colonial ruler France, which has some 1,500 troops in the country and had been providing training and conducting joint operations with Niger’s military, was actively planning an attack, according to an official.
Sahel experts say it’s not surprising that little seems to have come from Saturday’s meeting as each party is trying to show they’re open to discussions, yet the chances of an agreement are slim because their positions are starkly different.
ECOWAS envoy Abubakar also met toppled President Mohamed Bazoum during the visit.
Speculations about Bazoum’s health had been rife. Since the July 26 coup, Bazoum has been under house arrest with his family.
Saturday’s meetings joined mediation efforts by Leonardo Santos Simao, the U.N. special representative for West Africa and the Sahel, who arrived on Friday.