Watch CBS News

African leaders order the activation of standby force to respond to Niger coup

West African leaders meeting on Niger coup
West African leaders meet about Niger coup as concerns mount over ousted president's health 03:30

Johannesburg — The leaders of a group of West African nations met Thursday for an emergency summit to decide on the bloc's next move as it grapples with how to handle the recent military coup in one of its own member states. The leaders of the ECOWAS bloc have threated to use military force, but made it clear they prefer diplomacy to restore democracy in Niger.

In closing remarks, the 17-country ECOWAS group pledged to enforce sanctions and travel bans on those preventing the return to power of democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum and ordered the activation of its standby force.

"No option is off the table, including the use of force as a last resort," said Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu, and current ECOWAS chair, at the end of the summit.  

The ECOWAS leaders were meeting two weeks after the July 26 coup in Niger shocked the region. 

Junta closure of Niger's airspace meant to thwart intervention, disrupts flights across Africa 03:42

In an early Thursday morning televised address, the generals who seized power over the country and locked Bazoum up in his home announced a new set of leaders. The junta said its newly appointed government included 21 ministers and was led by interim Prime Minister Lamine Zeine Ali Mahamane, who would also act as the Minister of Economy and Finance.

The defiant announcement of a new government came a day after Niger's military rulers accused France of violating the country's airspace, attacking a military camp and freeing "terrorists." The foreign ministry in France, the former colonial power in Niger, later denied the accusations.

Bazoum has accused the junta of keeping him and his family in "cruel" and "inhumane" detention at his official residence in the capital city of Niamey. Officials close to him have told CBS News he and his wife and son have no running water, no electricity and no access to doctors.

Some former government ministers were being held in another building near the presidential residence, while others remained in hiding in Niamey. One close aide to Bazoum who remains in hiding told CBS News on Thursday that despite the conditions, the president's "morale is very high."

The aide said the deposed leadership of Niger believed ECOWAS was likely to attempt one more round of mediation before launching any military intervention.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced his concern Wednesday about the reported "deplorable living conditions" of Bazoum and his family, calling for the leader's "immediate, unconditional release and his reinstatement as Head of State," according to a statement from a spokesperson.

Former government minister Rhissa Ag Boula, meanwhile, announced the formation of a new anti-coup group aimed at reinstating Bazoum. He said the Council of Resistance for the Republic (CCR) was in favor of resolving the standoff through diplomacy but would use "any means necessary" to stop the military takeover of Niger.

Thousands of supporters of the military coup in Niger gathered at a Niamey stadium on August 6, 2023. AFP/Getty

The Thursday ECOWAS meeting in neighboring Nigeria's capital Abuja came after the junta met with two prominent traditional leaders from Nigeria, Lamido Muhammad Sanusi and Abdullsalami Abubarkar the previous day. Sanusi, who met coup-leader Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, later told journalists that he and Abubarkar would "continue to do our best to bring the two parties together to improve understanding. This is the time for public diplomacy."

Acting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and Under-Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland travelled to Niger earlier in the week and met the junta's defense chief, Gen. Moussa Salaou Barmou. He's a well-known figure to Washington as he's spent the last decade at the helm of the special forces in Niger, which had become a valuable U.S. military partner in the tumultuous region of northern Africa known as the Sahel.

She described the talks to journalists as "extremely frank and at times quite difficult, because, again, we were pushing for a negotiated solution."

She said the junta was "quite firm in their view on how they want to proceed, and it does not comport with the constitution of Niger."

Barmou was himself trained by U.S. forces, and he worked closely with U.S. military leadership at two bases in Niger run jointly with the Americans.

Nuland was not allowed to meet with coup leader Tchiani or with President Bazoum.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.