The French president, Emmanuel Macron, denounced yesterday that his country's ambassador to Niger has been taken hostage by the coup plotters of that country. The ambassador, Sylvain Itté, and several diplomats have been "literally taken hostage" in the same French embassy in Niamey, Macron said in a conversation with French journalists accompanying him on an internal trip.
He explained, without giving further details, that the diplomat "cannot leave" the embassy and that the military prevents food from being brought into the diplomatic legation, where he must be fed "military rations". Macron assured that France will continue to welcome artists from Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, despite the hostility with the old metropolis of the military regimes that emerged from the last coups d'état, but he pointed out that due to the circumstances in these countries now for visas cannot be issued now.
"It is false" - assured the president - that events involving artists or intellectuals from Burkina Faso, Mali or Niger should be canceled in France. "France's vocation is to welcome artists and intellectuals and precisely that they can shine with total freedom", he remarked.
In addition, the president's announcement comes after the Nigerien military authorities released a French citizen, Stéphane Julien, a representative elected by his compatriots to represent them before the French consulate in Niamey.
Julien had been arrested on Friday last week and the arrest sparked an official French protest. He was released on Wednesday, but was not heard from until yesterday.
The tension is extreme between France and the new Nigerien authorities that emerged from the July 26 coup, who have demanded the departure of the French ambassador - something that Paris has not accepted - and of the nearly 1,500 French soldiers stationed in that country since Sahel.
On September 10, the military junta accused France of having deployed its troops in other countries in the region with the aim of carrying out an "aggression" against Niger with the Economic Community of West African States. (Cedeo).
A couple of weeks ago, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Catherine Colonna, insisted in an interview with Le Monde that the ambassador, Sylvain Itté, "is our representative before the legitimate authorities of Niger" and warned that not necessarily they must bow to the coup plotters. "We guarantee - he added - that [the ambassador] can face the pressures of the coup plotters with total security".
The head of diplomacy reiterates her position that "the only authorities in Niger that we recognize, like the community as a whole, are President Mohamed Bazoum and his".
Bazoum is arrested and charged by the coup plotters.