France's President Emmanuel Macron says Paris is imminently withdrawing its ambassador from Niger followed by its troops, putting an end to military cooperation with Niamey.
"France has decided to withdraw its ambassador. In the next hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France, And we will put an end to our military cooperation with the current Niger authorities...," Macron told France-2 television in an interview on Sunday.
Emphasizing that military cooperation between the two countries is finished, he noted that around 1,500 French troops in Niger will leave in "the months and weeks to come" with a full pullout "by the end of the year."
“It will be organized in the coming weeks, but it’s the end of this cooperation [between the two countries] because we are not there to participate in political life (of Niger)," Macron said.
Niger welcomes withdrawal of French envoy, troops
Hours later, Niger's military government issued a statement, welcoming France’s announcement about pulling its ambassador and troops out of the country as "a new step towards sovereignty."
"This Sunday, we celebrate a new step towards the sovereignty of Niger," it said.
"The French troops and the ambassador of France will leave Nigerien soil by the end of the year," the statement noted, adding, "This is a historic moment, which speaks to the determination and will of the Nigerien people."
Niger's military ousted pro-Western former president, Mohamed Bazoum, in a coup on July 26. Since then, relations have been deteriorating between Paris and Niamey due to the former's refusal to recognize Niger's new rulers and its support for the ousted president.
The coup against Bazoum was the third of its kind in the West Africa region in as many years, following similar military actions in Mali and Burkina Faso in 2021 and 2022, which also forced the pullouts of French troops.
During his Sunday interview, Macron reaffirmed France's position that Bazoum remained the "sole legitimate authority" in the West African country, claiming that "he was targeted by this coup d'etat because he was carrying out courageous reforms."
Last month, Niger's military leaders declared French ambassador Sylvain Itte persona non grata and revoked his diplomatic immunity.
However, after a 48-hour ultimatum for him to leave passed, the French government refused to comply, saying it did not recognize the authority of Niger's military government.
Niger closes airspace to French flights
In a related development also on Sunday, Niger's new authorities banned French aircraft from using the country's airspace.
Niger's airspace is "open to all national and international commercial flights except for French aircraft or aircraft chartered by France, including those of the airline Air France," the Agency for the Safety of Air Navigation in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA) said in a statement on its website.
The airspace would remain closed for "all military, operational and other special flights," unless receiving prior authorization, the message added.
Niger reopened its airspace for commercial flights on September 4 after it was closed for nearly a month.
The West African nation said on August 6 that it closed its airspace due to the "threat of intervention from neighboring countries."
The decision came after the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, threatened military action to restore the country's ousted president.