Niger’s military-appointed prime minister on Monday said “contacts” were underway for a “very swift” withdrawal of French forces following a coup in July that saw ties with Paris spiral downwards.
In a press conference, Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine said “the contacts that are underway should enable a very swift withdrawal” of French forces.
But, he said, Niger wished “to maintain cooperation with a country with which we have shared an enormous number of things.”
Tensions between Niger and France, its former colonial power and ally in the fight against jihadists insurgents, ratcheted up after rebel officers on July 26 forced out President Mohamed Bazoum.
France has stood by the democratically elected leader.
It has refused to acknowledge the coup leaders as the legitimate government and similarly ignored announcements cancelling military agreements with Paris and a threat to expel the French ambassador.
France has around 1,500 troops in the Sahel state, many of them deployed at an air base near the capital Niamey.
Tens of thousands of protestors rallied outside the base at the weekend to demand they leave, responding to a call by a pro-coup civilian coalition.
The post-coup government on August 3 renounced military accords with Paris, a move France has ignored on the grounds of legitimacy.
One of the accords required a notice period of one month, according to military sources.
Zeine said that as a result of the renunciation, the French troops in Niger were now “in a position of illegality.”
Referring to the showdown over French ambassador Sylvain Itte, he said the envoy had displayed “an attitude of contempt” by refusing to meet the authorities on August 25.