Amid tensions between France and junta-controlled Niger, French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday claimed that his country's ambassador along with other diplomats are "being held hostage" at the French embassy in Niamey.
While interacting with reporters in Côte D’Or region, Macron said that the French envoy was eating 'military rations' as food was prevented from being delivered to the diplomats, CNN reported. French envoy to Niger Sylvain Itte was also prevented from going out and refused food, he added.
This comes after the military junta ordered the French envoy to leave the country and gave him a 48-hour deadline, revoking his visa and instructing the police to expel him. However, Itte defied the order and chose to remain, as French authorities reiterated that they don't recognise the authority of the military regime.
"I will do whatever we agree on with President Bazoum because he is the legitimate authority and I speak with him every day," said Macron, when asked if he would make efforts in bringing back Itte from Niger. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna also said that Itte will stay in Niger "as long as we want him to stay" and his return would depend on Macron's decision.
Renewed tensions with France
Earlier this month, a fresh round of anti-France protests erupted in Niger's capital, Niamey, as thousands gathered to demand the withdrawal of French troops from the country over a month after the military coup that ousted a democratically-elected government from power.
The protests were in reaction to Macron's refusal to withdraw the French envoy and troops from the country. "Our policy is the right one. It depends on the courage of President Mohamed Bazoum, the commitment of our diplomats, of our ambassador on the ground who is remaining despite pressure," he earlier told French ambassadors.
After Macron's remarks, the military administration in Niger accused France of 'blatant interference' in the West African nations, fuelling the weekend protests. Relations between Niger and France had sharply deteriorated after the July 26 coup that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.
The Nigerien military has exploited grievances against former coloniser France and has severed military ties with the European country. It has also turned to Russia's mercenary group Wagner for help. On the other hand, France has refused to acknowledge the authority of the military administration and said that it would respond if its military or diplomatic facilities in Niger are targeted.
France still has at least 1,500 military personnel in Niger as part of counter-terrorism operations in the wake of anti-French sentiments elsewhere in the West African region.
Why are Nigeriens hostile towards France?
One of the major reasons for Niger's hostile stance towards France can be alluded towards the failure of security forces to eradicate the threat of Islamic terrorism in the region.
Notably, Niger is a major producer of uranium, a vital component of nuclear arsenals across the world. A majority of the uranium produced in Niger goes to European countries, especially France.
Many people in Niger still believe that despite their independence in 1960, France has continued to act as an imperial power by robbing its resources and dictating its economic policies. Many citizens hold France to be responsible for the nation's current financial situation by exploiting their resources.