Since his removal from power by the military on July 26, President Mohamed Bazoum had been confined to his residence within the presidential palace compound, along with his wife and son.
Late on Thursday, the military regime alleged that Bazoum had “tried to escape” with his family, two cooks, and two security agents. The plan reportedly involved reaching a hideout on the outskirts of the capital, Niamey, before utilizing helicopters “belonging to a foreign power” to fly towards Nigeria, according to regime spokesperson Amadou Abdramane’s statement on state television.
However, a collective of lawyers representing Bazoum strongly refuted these “fabricated accusations.” Mohamed Seydou Diagne, coordinator of the collective, stated in a press release sent to AFP in Abidjan that Bazoum, his wife, and son have been held “incommunicado, without access to lawyers or the outside world.” Diagne added that a doctor attempting to deliver food to the family was denied access on Friday.
The lawyer emphasized that being held “incommunicado” represents a significant violation of Bazoum’s fundamental rights by the junta.
Lawyers representing the ousted president of Niger have vehemently denied claims made by the country’s new military rulers that he attempted to escape. Meanwhile, France has confirmed that its forces will adhere to the planned timeline and be withdrawn from Niger by the end of the year.
Diagne also expressed concern that Bazoum’s entourage had not received any updates since Wednesday night. Another lawyer from the collective, Reed Brody, demanded that the military rulers provide proof of the president’s and his family’s well-being and immediately release them.
Last month, Bazoum’s legal team announced that they had filed a case with the Economic Community of West African States against those responsible for the coup. They also stated their intention to bring the case to the attention of the UN Human Rights Council.
In other developments, the French army revealed that its 1,500 troops stationed in Niger will complete their withdrawal by December 31, as outlined by President Emmanuel Macron’s previous announcement. The military rulers of Niger had requested the pullout following the coup, and the process commenced last week.
Speaking at a joint press conference in Niamey, General Eric Ozanne, commander of France’s forces in the Sahel, confirmed that the French troops’ departure would be accomplished as planned. Colonel Mamane Sani Kiaou of Niger’s military, who announced that 282 soldiers had already left, also expressed a desire for a smooth and safe transition.
The French forces were deployed in Niamey and western Niger to combat extremist groups associated with the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, and they brought with them fighter jets, drones, helicopters, armored vehicles, and support equipment.
The first convoy of French troops withdrawing from Niger arrived in N’Djamena, the capital of neighboring Chad, on Thursday after a ten-day journey. N’Djamena serves as France’s military headquarters for the Sahel region.
General Ozanne clarified that Chad is solely a transit country and not a new operational base for the French forces. Most of the troops and equipment will be transported by land and sea, although some will depart by air from Chad.
This marks the third time in 18 months that a former French colony has requested the departure of French troops, significantly impacting France’s influence on the continent and its international standing. Despite tensions between Paris and Niamey following the coup, the military chiefs from both countries expressed a desire for a coordinated and peaceful disengagement.
Colonel Kiaou stated, “We’ve asked them to leave, so we’d like everything to go smoothly and for them to be able to return to Chad in complete safety.”