The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, said on Friday that the country’s ambassador to Niger is being held captive at the French embassy and that military governors are preventing food deliveries to the mission.
The envoy is living off “military rations”, Macron told reporters in the French town of Semur-en-Auxois.
“As we speak, we have an ambassador and diplomatic staff who are literally being held hostage in the French embassy.”
“They are preventing food deliveries,” he said, in an apparent reference to Niger’s new military rulers. “He is eating military rations.”
After overthrowing President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, Niger’s military chiefs informed French Ambassador Sylvain Itte that he needed to leave the country.
However, despite a 48-hour deadline to leave imposed in August, he remained in position since the French government refused to cooperate or accept the military authority as legitimate.
France and the majority of Niger’s neighbours have criticised the coup.
Macron said the ambassador “cannot go out; he is persona non grata, and he is being refused food”.
Speaking on whether France would consider bringing him home, Macron said: “I will do whatever we agree with President Bazoum because he is the legitimate authority and I speak with him every day.”
However, Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna later stated that the ambassador “is working” and would stay at his post for as long as Paris wished.
“He is very useful for us with his contacts and those of his team,” Colonna told LCI television, adding the ambassador still had a small team with him.
France has approximately 1,500 troops in Niger and stated earlier this month that any relocation was able to be arranged with Bazoum.
The country’s new leaders have ripped up military cooperation agreements with France and ordered the troops to depart as soon as possible.
For weeks, Macron has refused to remove the French ambassador, a stance supported by the EU, which has called the demand “provocative. ”
According to EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Nabila Massrali last month, the EU, like France, “does not recognise” the authorities who seized power in Niger.
In recent years, the impoverished Sahel area south of the Sahara has seen an “epidemic” of coups, with military administrations displacing elected governments in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Niger.