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France, Niger officials reportedly in ‘talks’ over troops withdrawal

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At this stage, neither the number of French soldiers involved nor the timing of their departure have been decided, Le Monde reported, citing several unidentified French sources close to the matter.

France has started talks with some Niger army officials over withdrawing some troops from the African country following a coup in July, Le Monde reported.

The talks are not being held with putsch leaders, but with regular army officials with whom France has long cooperated, the newspaper said on Tuesday.

A defence ministry source told AFP news agency that the French army is holding talks with Niger’s military over withdrawing “elements” of its presence there following a coup.

“Discussions on the withdrawal of certain military elements have begun,” the source said, asking not to be named. The source did not give details.

Earlier, a source close to Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu told AFP that talks were in progress about “easing movements of French military resources” in Niger.

That source noted that French forces had been “immobilised since anti-terrorist cooperation was suspended” following the military takeover.

There has been speculation that France will be forced into a full military pullout from Niger after the July 26 putsch, which ousted French ally President Mohamed Bazoum.

Following the coup, France, the former colonial power in Niger, said it would end military cooperation and cut all development aid to the country.

But Paris had so far rejected calls by the putsch leaders to withdraw the 1,500 French troops currently in Niger, saying it still regards democratically elected Bazoum, currently held prisoner, as the country’s legitimate leader.

The French defence ministry did not immediately reply for comment.

Fight against militants

Niger’s military-appointed Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine said on Monday that “contacts” were under way about a “very swift” departure for Paris’ troops.

Zeine nevertheless said he hoped to “maintain cooperation if possible with a country with which we have shared many things.”

According to Le Monde, some French troops could be redeployed in the region, notably in neighbouring Chad, while others could return to France.

But a withdrawal from Niger would be a blow to France’s influence in the region, after having had to leave Mali, where Russian mercenaries have moved in.

Niger has been a security partner of France and the United States, which have used it as a base to fight an insurgency in West and Central Africa’s wider Sahel region.

The French forces are mostly based at an airfield near the capital Niamey, which in recent days has been targeted by thousands of protesters calling on them to leave.

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